What's the Difference Between a Birth Injury and a Birth Defect?

There are risks in any pregnancy, which is why families who suspect medical negligence as the cause of complications or injuries to their child must meticulously investigate the circumstances in order to determine whether or not they have a potential birth injury claim. When negligence results in a birth injury, a birth injury lawsuits provide the opportunity for holding negligent medical professionals accountable for failures during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, and allow victims to recover the financial compensation they deserve.

As a firm ranked among the Best Law Firms in medical malpractice law and personal injury litigation by U.S. News & World Report, Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP knows victims and families often face difficulties in determining when medical malpractice occurs, and when they have a potential case. This is especially true in cases of birth injuries, where identifying the nature of injuries or disabilities suffered by a child, as well as their underlying cause, determines whether claims have merit.

To understand your rights when pursuing a birth injury claim, you must remember that cases are typically centered on negligence and whether or not medical professionals – including nurses and obstetricians – caused harm by failing to provide a reasonable standard of care. Not all disabilities or complications are caused by medical negligence, however. Some are the result of birth defects. Below, our team explains the difference:

  • Birth Injuries – In the context of medical malpractice cases, birth injuries are any injury to a child that could and should have been prevented. When nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals are negligent (meaning they provide substandard care) during pregnancy, labor, or during and after delivery, they substantially increase risks of preventable birth injury. For example, nurses may fail to adequately monitor fetal heart rate and signs of fetal distress, which can lead to complications (such as oxygen deprivation) that could have been avoided. Other examples of birth injuries resulting from negligence include impairments caused by improper use of forceps or vacuum extractors, serious disabilities caused by delayed C-sections, and failures to detect and monitor risk-factors in mothers, including infections. When these failures occur and birth injuries result, victims and families have the right to seek legal action against the responsible medical professionals and / or health care provider.
  • Birth Defects – As opposed to birth injuries, birth defects are congenital, meaning they are present at birth and develop while the fetus itself develops in the womb. Birth defects can vary, but are often the result of genetic mutations that can affect the brain, central nervous system, or other parts of a child’s body. Many birth defects – including clubfoot, spina bifida, and Down syndrome – are largely unpreventable, which means families typically don’t have the ability to pursue civil lawsuits for negligence. Some, however, may be caused by environmental factors and exposure to harmful substances. This is especially true in the case of dangerous medications that can cause serious birth defects. Over the years, pharmaceutical manufacturers have been held liable for failures to ensure the safety of drugs, including certain anti-depressants, and adequately warn consumers about potential birth defect risks. In these cases, victims may have the right to seek legal action over harmful substances or medications that led to birth defects.

Ultimately, families who discover their child has suffered an injury or birth defect should be intent on working with proven attorneys who can help them determine the underlying cause and whether they have a potential case to hold medical professionals or pharmaceutical manufacturers liable for their damages – including the costs of future medical care, lost income, emotional injuries, and more. Our Cleveland birth injury lawyers at Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP have extensive experience handling challenging medical malpractice cases, and are available to speak with families throughout the state of Ohio during free and confidential consultations. If you wish to discuss a potential birth injury case, or a case involving birth defects caused by toxic exposure, contact us to get started.


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