Injuries arising from medical errors during pregnancy or childbirth can lead to significant costs and losses. By proving liability in a birth injury lawsuit, a family can recover damages for the harm caused by a health care provider. Typical damages in these cases are known as compensatory damages, which means that they aim to put a child and family in a position in which they would have been without the malpractice. This is not literally possible, especially when permanent conditions arise. No amount of money can erase the trauma that a child suffers, nor can it cure a disability. However, compensatory damages can relieve the financial burden caused by medical errors and allow a family to focus on the healing process.
In rare cases, a birth injury lawsuit also may result in an award of punitive damages. This is a separate type of damages awarded to punish the defendant and deter similarly situated people or entities. Punitive damages usually require proof of extremely negligent, reckless, or intentional conduct. Fortunately, most medical errors do not meet this standard.
Economic Damages Arising From Birth Injuries
Compensatory damages fall into two basic categories: economic and non-economic. Economic damages account for relatively objective forms of harm that can be easily quantified. The most obvious type of economic damages in a birth injury lawsuit is medical expenses. The costs of treatments such as surgeries and therapies may be overwhelming, and sometimes a child will need ongoing treatment for the rest of their life. They also may need medications and assistive devices, such as leg braces or wheelchairs. Compensation in a birth injury lawsuit can cover all of these costs.
In addition to medical costs, a compensation award might cover costs for special education if a child suffers from a cognitive disability due to a birth injury. A lawsuit also might pursue reimbursement for modifications to a home or vehicle. In general, any documented expenses that arise from medical malpractice may be compensated. A family may recover future economic damages if these are reasonably foreseeable.
Lost Income of Parents
Sometimes a parent may need to quit their job or change to a position with a lower salary so that they can care for their child, or they may need to take time off from work. They might be able to pursue these lost wages from a defendant who committed medical malpractice.
Non-Economic Damages Arising From Birth Injuries
In contrast, non-economic damages compensate a child for more subjective forms of harm. These include pain and suffering, emotional distress, and lost enjoyment of life. Non-economic damages cannot be easily reduced to a dollar amount. However, a family or their attorney can present evidence, such as witness testimony and photographs, to show the impact of an injury on a child’s life. They also might introduce expert witnesses who can describe the long-term prognosis of a disability and explain how it usually affects children.
Some states cap damages awards in birth injury and other medical malpractice cases, even if they do not cap damages in ordinary personal injury cases. These caps generally apply only to non-economic damages, though, so a family still may be able to recover the full extent of their economic damages.
Damages Awards Through Settlements
Most birth injury lawsuits result in a settlement rather than a verdict. This allows a family to get compensation more efficiently and avoid the uncertainty of going to trial. However, a settlement will result in the dismissal of all claims related to the birth injury, preventing a family from getting additional compensation for the same incident of medical malpractice. This makes it critical to ensure that a settlement offer properly compensates the child and parents for past, present, and future losses.
Parents may want to consult an attorney before accepting an offer if they have not retained an attorney already. An experienced birth injury lawyer can advise them on the value of their claim and their likelihood of success at trial. If an offer is too low, a family may want to extend the litigation further. A settlement can occur at any stage of a case, so parents should not feel pressured to accept the first offer that they receive.