Brain Injury Liability at Birth (Illinois)

When is a brain injury at birth medical malpractice? Brain injuries in newborns can lead to severe, lifelong consequences affecting their health, development, and enjoyment of life. Birth injuries can occur from naturally occurring complications or as a result of improper care by healthcare providers during labor and delivery. When the injury is a result of preventable medical errors, the healthcare provider may be held financially liable for medical negligence. Chicago-based attorney Patrick Salvi explains how birth brain injuries can happen, the legal elements required to prove medical negligence, and the types of damages injured victims and families can recover in Illinois.

 Medical Malpractice > Obstetric Brain Injury > Chicago, Illinois

  Patrick A. Salvi II is the Chicago Managing Partner at Salvi Schostok & Pritchard. He concentrates his practice in medical malpractice, personal injury, mass torts, and product liability.

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Brain Injury at Birth: Causes and Types

Obstetric brain injuries can happen because of medical errors during pregnancy or childbirth or from naturally occuring complications. Brain injuries at birth can result from lack of oxygen (hypoxia), blood flow loss (ischemia), untreated infections in the mother or baby, head trauma, or birth complications. Common types of brain injuries at birth include Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain, Cerebral Palsy, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and motor disorders.


Birth Injury Medical Negligence or Malpractice Claims

To prove a claim of medical negligence or malpractice resulting in a brain injury at birth, the following elements must be shown:

  • Duty of care — establish that a professional relationship existed between the patient and the healthcare provider and/or hospital. If a duty of care exists, the healthcare provider owes certain duties of care.
  • Breach in standard of care  —  establish that the conduct of a healthcare provider did not meet the standard of a reasonably prudent and competent healthcare provider.
    • For example, a delay in addressing or improperly monitoring fetal distress may constitute medical negligence. As part of their investigation, attorneys and their experts analyze data from the fetal monitoring strip (used to measure the baby’s heart rate) to determine whether there was a delay in treating signs of fetal distress.
  • Causation —  establish that the breach in standard of care caused the birth brain injury.
    • To show causation, attorneys need to evaluate whether an acute hypoxic event occurred in and around the labor and delivery resulting in the brain injury. If the baby was put in cooling therapy shortly after birth, this may be an indication that there was an acute hypoxic-ischemic injury.
  • Injuries and damage —  may include physical, emotional, mental, and economic damages.


Role of Experts

Medical malpractice cases involving birth injuries are complex, and experts are important to provide testimony of findings to support all elements of the negligence claim. Experts and specialists who may be consulted on obstetrical brain injury suits include:

  • Obstetricians
  • Maternal fetal medicine specialists
  • Obstetrical nurses
  • Pediatric neurologists
  • Pediatric neuroradiologists
  • Placental pathologists


Damages in Illinois

In Illinois, there are no caps or limits on how much a plaintiff can recover in medical malpractice claims. This includes economic and noneconomic damages. The types of damages recoverable in Illinois include:

  • Economic
    • Current and future medical expenses
    • Reimbursement for past medical expenses
    • Cost of lifelong care, including therapy, equipment, and medications
    • Loss of earning potential
  • Noneconomic
    • Pain and suffering
    • Shortened life expectancy
    • Increased risk of future harm
    • Loss of normal enjoyment of life