One of the potential causes of brain trauma in newborns is a skull fracture. These happen more frequently in babies than adults, since their skulls are flexible and have not yet hardened. Fractures often occur in areas known as sutures and fontanelles. Sutures are membranes that hold together the bone plates of the skull, while fontanelles are soft areas where the sutures meet. Fractures tend to result from trauma during labor and delivery. They may arise from errors by medical professionals who use forceps or vacuum extraction devices to help the baby come out of the birth canal.
Some skull fractures are classified as linear fractures, which are straight cracks in a bone. In other cases, a child may suffer a diastatic fracture along a suture. Linear fractures may not require surgery and pose only modest risks, while diastatic fractures may lead to a potentially devastating condition known as a growing skull fracture. This means that the brain escapes from the skull through the gap created by the fracture. Another type of fracture, known as a depressed or ping-pong fracture, often leads to surgery. This is because the fracture causes a depression in the skull, which may put pressure on the brain.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Skull Fractures
The site and extent of a skull fracture, as well as the type of fracture, will affect the symptoms that a child displays. Some relatively minor symptoms may include bruises, lethargy, vomiting, a lump on the skull, or unnaturally pale skin. More alarming symptoms may include bleeding inside the skull, loss of consciousness, seizures, brain damage, or deformation of the skull. Symptoms should be carefully monitored, even when a fracture does not seem serious. Complications may develop quickly, and consequences may be severe or even fatal.
Testing for Skull Fractures
A doctor usually will conduct a neurological exam if they suspect that a child may have sustained a skull fracture. Afterward, they may use tests such as CT scans, X-rays, MRIs, and ultrasounds to confirm this diagnosis. (CT scans and X-rays are used more often than MRIs and ultrasounds.) Images from these tests may capture not only the fracture but also bleeding and swelling caused by the fracture.
Treatment for Skull Fractures
In some cases, a small skull fracture will resolve on its own without major intervention, especially if no brain damage has occurred. When a fracture is more extensive, or when the brain may be at risk, a child may need surgery. This can remove any fluid that has collected in the area and repair the fracture. Surgery also can address any brain trauma that may have resulted from the fracture.
An infant who suffers a skull fracture during a properly managed childbirth is less likely to suffer serious or permanent harm. They may not need any assistance with healing. A fracture that is significant enough to require surgery or other treatment often indicates that a medical error occurred during labor and delivery.
Holding Physicians Accountable for Errors Causing Skull Fractures
Unfortunately, even a successful surgery may not completely resolve the effects of a skull fracture or resulting brain damage. Many of the most serious fractures arise from excessive force when assisting childbirth. A doctor also may cause a skull fracture if they do not handle forceps or vacuum extractors competently, or if they use these instruments when they should not have been used. Errors during labor and delivery can support a medical malpractice claim.
Through a lawsuit, parents can seek compensation for the costs incurred in treating permanent disabilities that their child has developed. These may include surgeries, medications, therapies, and more. To show that a health care provider should be liable for these costs, parents should hire an experienced birth injury attorney. They will know how to gather and present expert testimony and other evidence to show that a doctor departed from the professional standard of care.
Paying an Attorney
Parents should not be concerned about the cost of hiring an attorney. Most birth injury lawyers handle cases on a contingency fee basis, so they do not collect their fees until they get compensation for a client. The fee is calculated as a percentage of the final award.