Understanding Medical Malpractice and Birth Injuries: Why NICU Errors Leading to Infant Injury Could be Due to Negligence
Babies born after 37 weeks are considered to be full term. Most of these babies are healthy and need no additional assistance, but some require additional assistance in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Other times, babies are born far too early, requiring additional assistance in the NICU. There are many reasons that a baby may need to spend time in the NICU, and generally speaking the NICU is a great place for these babies to be as they are specialized in caring for critically ill newborns. However, there are times when a baby may not receive the best assistance possible, and may instead suffer harm due to injuries sustained in the NICU as the result of a healthcare provider’s error. In fact, NICU errors leading to infant injury could result in serious birth injuries and be due to medical malpractice.
What is the NICU? Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Explained
As mentioned above, the NICU is a place that newborns go for specialized care when they are born unwell. The team there is made up of neonatologists, specially trained nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, lactation consultants, and dietitians. Newborns have unique medical issues requiring specially trained staff to care for them.
Some babies require respiratory support, thus needing a ventilator, CPAP, BiPAP, or oxygen until their lungs are able to work independently on their own. Other times, babies may have jaundice, requiring use of special lights to bring their bilirubin down. Some babies are born with heart conditions, requiring specialized care in the NICU.
Reasons Why a Baby May Require Time in the NICU
As mentioned above, there are many reasons as to why a newborn may need to spent time in the NICU. A few of these reasons include the following:
- Low birth weight
- Respiratory distress
- Drug use by the mother
- Alcohol use by the mother
- Birth defects (i.e. heart defects)
- Distress after a stressful labor and delivery due to issues such as umbilical cord compression
- Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) requiring cooling therapy to try to minimize the brain damage a baby has suffered during the labor and delivery
- Need for additional therapies, such as medication therapy, blood transfusions or IV fluids
- Need to light therapy as the result of jaundice
NICU Errors Due to Medical Malpractice
While the NICU is often the best possible place for these critically ill babies to be, there are times when a baby is harmed due to an error made. Small errors can literally be the difference of life and death for these small newborns. NICU errors leading to infant injury can result in serious personal injuries and damages to innocent babies and their families.
Examples of errors that occur in the NICU leading to harm of the newborn include the following:
- Resuscitation Errors – babies in the NICU often require respiratory support. Sometimes, babies need to be resuscitated if they stop breathing. If there is a delay in resuscitation, or if the newborn is not resuscitated properly (i.e. if a breathing tube is improperly inserted), this can lead to serious harm such as brain damage, other organ damage, or even death. Additionally, failing to give surfactant to a premature newborn to aid in lung development and aid in respiratory distress is an example of negligence
- Medication Errors – even the smallest medication errors can prove to be deadly to neonates. Errors include administering too much medication, not enough medication, or the wrong medication entirely. Additionally, if a newborn is given a medication they are allergic to, or interacts with another medication leading to harm, this is medical malpractice
- Inappropriate management of breathing machines and apparatuses – Newborns in the NICU often require some type of respiratory support. Newborns on ventilators are critically ill and depends on the machine to survive. If the settings are inappropriate for what the newborn needs (i.e. the machine is set to breathe too much or not enough for the infant), it can lead to serious harm or death. Additionally, if babies do not receive enough or receive too much oxygen through oxygen therapy or through CPAP/BiPAP, this too can cause great harm
- Improper management of infection – if a baby has an infection, it must be addressed properly and immediately. Some babies in the NICU develop serious infections such as meningitis, chorioamnionitis, infection from e-coli, and herpes simplex virus (HSV) amongst others. Some babies may get group B streptococcus from their mother if the mother is not treated with antibiotics at birth. Failing to properly treat an infection can lead to serious consequences such as sepsis, brain damage, amputation, organ damage, disability or death
- Failing to provide jaundice therapy – babies with jaundice sometimes need to be under special lights to bring down their bilirubin. While jaundice is treatable, if it is left untreated it can progress to kernicterus, a very serious and devastating consequence of jaundice that will leave the newborn permanently disabled
- Failing to treat babies who have experienced trauma due to hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy with cooling therapy – there is a narrow window in which therapy must be initiated (6 hours). If those hours pass and it has not been initiated, the therapy will be ineffective for the baby and the brain damage will be permanent
- Improper insertion of a nasogastric tube – if a nasogastric tube is inserted incorrectly (i.e. ends in the lungs instead of the stomach), this can be incredibly dangerous for the infant as it can cause pneumonia, aspiration, breathing difficulties, or even death if not detected
- Failing to effectively communicate – if members of the baby’s healthcare team fail to properly communicate with one another, many errors can occur such as medication errors, ventilation errors, feeding errors, and many others
- Failing to appropriately manage intracranial hemorrhage – intracranial hemorrhages more commonly occur in premature babies but can occur in all babies due to many different reasons. If brain hemorrhages are not identified and treated quickly, it can lead to irreversible and severe brain damage
- Failing to properly treat hypoglycemia – hypoglycemia can be treated with glucose or with feeding the infant. While for the most part it is easily treatable, if it is not identified in a timely manner, it can lead to seizures, brain damage, and even death
NICU Errors Leading to Infant Injury Could be Due to Medical Malpractice
If you or a loved one have been seriously injured or killed as a result of medical malpractice contact the Oregon Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Kuhlman Law at our number below or fill out the intake form. We offer a free initial case evaluation and handle cases on a contingency fee which means that you pay no money unless we recover.
Our law firm handles cases throughout the state including Bend and Portland Oregon, Redmond, Central Oregon, Sisters, Madras, Multnomah County, Deschutes County, Salem, Eugene, Corvallis, Lane County, Medford, Gresham, La Grande, Albany, Medford, Beaverton, Umatilla, Pendleton, Cottage Grove, Florence, Oregon City, Springfield, Keizer, Grants Pass, McMinnville, Tualatin, West Linn, Forest Grove, Wilsonville, Newberg, Roseburg, Lake Oswego, Klamath Falls, Happy Valley, Tigard, Ashland, Milwakie, Coos Bay, The Dalles, St. Helens, Sherwood, Central Point, Canby, Troutdale, Hermiston, Silverton, Hood River, Newport, Prineville, Astoria, Tillamook, Lincoln City, Hillsboro, and Vancouver, Washington.
We also have an office in Minneapolis, Minnesota and take medical malpractice cases throughout the Twin Cities, including St. Paul, Hennepin County, Ramsey County, Dakota County, Washington County, Anoka County, Scott County, Blaine, Stillwater, and Saint Paul Minnesota.