When Are Birth Defects Medical Malpractice?

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, and every year the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) try to raise awareness with expectant mothers and women around the world about the importance of what it takes to have a healthy baby.

Birth defects are devastating not only for the child but the parents. Parents spend millions in the United States caring for their children with birth defects, and many children live shorter lives because of their defects.

Some congenital disabilities are unpreventable and unpredictable, such as those caused by genetics. Other times, these defects are preventable with appropriate prenatal care, treatment, or even the right birth plan.

How Common Are Birth Defects in Indianapolis?

Every 4.5 minutes in the United States a baby is born with a birth defect. That means approximately 120,000 babies are affected each year in the U.S.

A congenital disability is a structural change that affects any part of the baby’s body, including internal organs, the brain, or bones. Some defects are minor, while others are so severe that they can be fatal.

What Causes Birth Defects?

Birth defects can occur during any stage of pregnancy. However, most defects happen during the first trimester or first three months of pregnancy. Other defects occur in the last two trimesters, which spans six months and is a delicate time for the development of a baby’s tissues and organs.

For some birth defects, the CDC knows the cause, like Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). But there are still numerous defects that occur for no reason.

Most defects are genetic and unavoidable, but other factors can have an influence. A small number of defects in the United States occur because of medical malpractice. For parents with a child that was born with a defect, it is important to know what malpractice acts can cause birth defects. Parents now have a substantial burden, and they need to know what they can do to hold physicians responsible, and receive financial compensation.

Experts estimate that there are more than 4,000 different types of birth defects; therefore, it is impossible to identify the cause of each one. However, they have categorized these 4,000 defects into three primary categories: genetic, environmental, and undetermined.

Genetic Causes of Birth Defects

Genetic causes are not usually a matter of malpractice. However, there are instances where a physician could be liable for a genetic birth defect. This could come about when the doctor fails to perform the necessary genetic screenings to rule out birth defects, doesn’t inform parents of a positive genetic test, or similar negligent acts.

Genetic defects are typically caused by:

  • Single Gene Defects – A single gene mutation leads to a defect. These defects are passed on even if just one parent has the genetic mutation.
  • Chromosomal Defects – Chromosomal abnormalities cause this category of defects, which means something goes wrong during the initial production stage. An example of chromosomal defects is Down’s Syndrome.
  • Multifactorial Defects – A combination of environmental factors and genetic factors cause this category of defect. An example of this type of defect is a cleft palate.

Environmental Defects

Environmental defects typically do not lead to a malpractice claim either, unless a physician fails to rule out whether an environmental risk is present for a patient. For example, a patient with alcohol or drug abuse should be screened to ensure their unborn infant does not have an environmental defect.

Other times, environmental defects are caused by infections. Therefore, if a physician does not catch the infection or treat it in time, he or she could be liable for the defect that the severe infection causes.

Unknown Defects

Sadly, the March of Dimes estimates that 70 percent of defects today have unknown causes.

Who Is Liable for a Birth Defect?

Sometimes, a physician is liable for a defect. Other times, the issue is not clear, or a third-party could also be responsible for an infant’s defect.

When an infant’s defect is linked to a prescription medication or other exposure during pregnancy, the party that manufactures that substance is more likely to be at-fault than the physician. However, if the physician prescribed that medication without adequately warning parents of the risk of defects or knowingly prescribes a drug that causes deficiencies, they could still be held liable.

Some drugs and chemicals known to cause birth defects include:

  • Paxil
  • ACE inhibitors
  • Anticancer drugs
  • Lithium
  • Tetracycline
  • Accutane
  • Warfarin

The Elements of Medical Malpractice

If you suspect that your physician is responsible for your infant’s defect, then you must ensure your case meets the elements of a malpractice claim. It is best that you consult with a malpractice attorney for a free case assessment.

To hold your physician responsible for your baby’s defect, you must have four essential elements present:

  1. The physician owed you a legal obligation or duty. If you are a patient of the physician, then your physician has a legal obligation to provide you with the best standard of care possible. That “standard” is measured against what other physicians in the same field would provide to their patients.
  2. The physician breached his or her duty of care. When a physician fails to diagnose a detectable defect, that failure to act could be considered a breach of duty. Any time the physician deviates from the acceptable standard of care, they may have breached their commitment to their patient.
  3. The breach was the direct cause of harm. You must show that the physician’s breach is what caused harm, or the defect to your child. For example, your physician prescribed a medication that he or she knew could lead to birth defects. They not only breached their duty of care, but that breach caused your child’s defect.
  4. The injury resulted in damages. Damages are the financial, emotional, and physical losses associated with the injury.

Speak with a Malpractice Attorney about Your Baby’s Defect Case

If your child was born with a preventable defect, you might be entitled to compensation. To explore your options, speak with an experienced attorney from Jacobs Law, LLC. Our attorneys offer a no-obligation, free consultation for clients who wish to discuss their options.

Schedule your meeting today by calling our office direct or by scheduling your consultation online.