Understanding NICU Malpractice and How it Can Cause Permanent Injuries
While many women have uncomplicated pregnancies and deliveries, there are times when a mother may develop complications requiring them to deliver early, or the baby may be born with birth defects or experience other complications that may require them to receive specialized care. When these instances occur, babies are often sent to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). While neonatal intensive care units are wonderful resources to be able to help infants receive the support and care they need, there are instances in which a baby is harmed in the NICU due to a medical provider’s negligence. Instances of NICU malpractice in Oregon may be compensable under the law. Our NICU lawyer in Portland, OR explains.
What is a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit?
As mentioned above, the neonatal intensive care unit is a place for babies who need specialized care. People working in the NICU (doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, dietitians and lactation consultants) are all specially trained to deal with these fragile newborns. There are many reasons as to why a newborn may need to be sent to the NICU for care. Some of these reasons include the following:
- Infant born prematurely
- Respiratory distress at birth, due to underdeveloped lungs, asphyxia at birth or many other reasons
- Abnormally low birth weight
- Birth defects such as heart defects
- Low blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia)
- Babies experiencing withdrawal due to drug or alcohol use by their mother during pregnancy
- Infections, due to a variety of reasons including maternal infections passed on by the mother, or infections that develop during the labor and delivery period or shortly after
- Fetal distress due to complications during labor or delivery (i.e. nuchal cord, low amniotic levels, etc.)
- Severe jaundice
As one can see, there are a variety of reasons why a baby may be sent to the NICU. While the NICU can greatly aid these ill newborns, NICU malpractice and mistakes made can also greatly harm these newborns, or even cause wrongful death.
What Types of Errors Can be Caused by NICU Malpractice?
Despite the NICU being a wonderful resource for the care of these new, fragile newborns, unfortunately mistakes are made that can cause serious harm or even death to these babies. These babies are already so small and fragile to begin with, so one small mistake can be catastrophic. Examples of errors that occur in the NICU malpractice include the following:
- Medication administration errors – these types of errors include administering too much of a medication, too little of a medication or administration of the wrong medication. These errors can cause deadly consequences as well as irreversible harm to the newborn
- Medication prescription errors – If a physician prescribes a medication for a newborn that interacts with another medication they are receiving, is a medication they are allergic to, or is a medication that is not indicated for the condition they are treating, this can prove to be deadly or very harmful
- Communication errors – If medical staff treating your baby do not communicate properly, mistakes can occur. Examples of this can include taking a verbal order from a physician that is incorrect, leading to the incorrect medication being administered, ventilator settings or other breathing support devices being incorrectly set, or procedures being performed incorrectly as well as unnecessary procedures being conducted
- Newborn resuscitation errors – Babies in the NICU unfortunately commonly need a great deal of respiratory support, including resuscitation at times. This is required when a baby is not breathing right after birth, or during their time in the NICU. Additionally, a baby may be breathing but has an irregular heart rhythm or heart rate. When there is a delay in resuscitating a newborn, serious brain damage can occur due to oxygen deprivation Additionally, if a breathing tube is improperly inserted, this too can cause serious complications. Death can occur from improper or delayed resuscitation efforts. Additionally, certain medications may be administered to maintain adequate blood pressure, heart function and oxygenation of the infant. If a baby is premature, they are often given surfactant, a medication that help babies to to breathe better and helps their lungs to develop more quickly. Failure to give this drug when indicated is an example of medical malpractice and a dangerous birth injury
- Failing to manage breathing apparatuses properly – If a newborn requires the use of mechanical ventilation, oxygen, or other devices, incorrect monitoring can lead to serious errors, including brain damage. If a baby does not receive enough oxygen and does not expel enough carbon dioxide, this this can cause serious harm. Additionally, if a the machine settings are not correct (i.e. breaths given to the newborn are too quick), this can cause the baby to expel too much carbon dioxide, leading to serious effects such as permanent pain damage, cerebral palsy, cystic PVL, or periventricular leukomalacia
- Improperly treated infections – if there is a delay in treating an infection, or an infection is treated improperly, this can lead to serious consequences for the newborn, including permanent brain damage, disability, or wrongful death
- Failing to provide hypothermia therapy in newborns with a hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy diagnosis (HIE) – HIE is a very serious, catastrophic birth injury. Hypothermic therapy can greatly help to reduce brain damage and allow healing but must be given within six hours of the injury. Failure to do this allows for permanent brain damage to occur
- Failing to manage jaundice properly – Jaundice is the yellowing of skin and eyes due to a buildup of too much bilirubin in the blood. While jaundice is common in newborns, if managed inappropriately it can cause catastrophic consequences for the baby. If a baby isn’t given phototherapy (light therapy) in a timely manner, this can lead to an increasing elevation of blood bilirubin levels. Additionally, newborns with jaundice due to other conditions may require other treatment. Failure to provide this treatment can lead to a serious and catastrophic condition known as kernicterus
- Failing to treat intracranial hemorrhages – Hemorrhages can occur for a variety of reasons.. Treatment includes anti-seizure medications, transfusions, and other drug therapies. Failing to treat these properly can lead to permanent brain damage
Ask Our NICU Malpractice Lawyer in Portland, OR For Help
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.