Contracting an infection is something that all humans will do over the course of their lives, and is something that we have come to expect. In fact, except for certain vulnerable groups (such as those with HIV/AIDS or those suffering from certain cancers), some infections are fairly innocuous, and can even be positive, helping our bodies learn how to fight back against various parasites, bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
Sometimes, however, infections can be dangerous, especially when they go untreated. This is true for pregnant mothers who develop infections during their pregnancy, as well as infections incurred by newborns during birth or in the timeframe immediately following birth.
When a birth infection goes undiagnosed, is untreated, or is improperly treated, the mother or the baby, or both, may suffer harm. When this is the case, the healthcare provider responsible for the infection and its lack of treatment may be held liable. At the office of the Preszler Law Firm, our Ontario birth injury lawyers can help you to understand your rights and options following a birth injury caused by a birth infection.
Maternal Infections: An Overview
As explained by Stanford Children’s Health, an infection is the invasion and multiplication of microorganisms in the body, to which the body may respond in a variety of different ways depending on the type and extent of infection. In all cases, an infection is caused by either bacteria, virus, parasite, or fungi. Depending upon the type of infection, the infectious disease may be spread as a result of direct skin contact, sexual transmission, airborne transmission, and more. For expectant mothers, it is also possible to pass an infection to a developing fetus. While maternal infections are common, and many will not cause serious harm to either mother or baby, certain infections can endanger the health and well-being of either or both.
Examples of maternal infections that may cause serious injury and harm include:
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV, herpes, and HPV;
- Bacterial infections such as syphilis, gonorrhea, salmonella, or listeria;
- Chorioamnionitis, which is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation of the fetal membranes;
- Toxoplasmosis, which is caused by exposure to the single-celled parasite Toxoplasma gondii; and
- Viral respiratory infections.
In addition to infections that are contracted by the mother and passed onto the fetus, there are also certain infections that newborn baby is at risk of contracting during or after birth that do not affect the mother. These include:
- Neonatal sepsis, which is a blood infection that a newborn younger than 90 days old may develop as a result of a bacterial infection;
- Congenital rubella; and
- Cytomegalovirus (CMV), which is the most common congenital viral infection.
Harm Caused by Maternal and Neonatal Infection
When a fetus or a newborn baby contracts one of the infections listed above, the harm sustained by the baby can be significant, especially if treatment is not initiated immediately. Examples of harm and injury that a fetus/newborn might suffer, depending upon the type and extent of the infection include:
- Hearing loss;
- Intellectual disability;
- Visual disturbances;
- Preterm delivery;
- Congestive heart failure;
- Anemia; and
- Severe illness.
Liability for Harm Caused by a Birth Injury
It is critical that an infection in either a mother or a newborn be properly diagnosed, and that treatment begin immediately. When treatment does not begin or is ineffective and a fetus or newborn suffers serious injury, a healthcare provider may be held liable if the harm was the result of:
- A doctor’s failure to order certain tests or monitor for signs of infection during pregnancy;
- A doctor’s failure to properly sanitize hands or equipment (i.e. a healthcare-acquired infection);
- A doctor’s failure to refer a patient to a specialist, perform follow-up care, or properly interpret lab results;
- A doctor’s failure to monitor a newborn for any signs of infection or/and conduct proper tests, such as a urine test, blood count, blood culture, or even spinal tap;
- A doctor’s failure to properly treat an infection, perhaps as a result of misdiagnosis or other error.
In order to hold a doctor liable, you must be able to prove that that doctor in question breached the medical standard of care owed to you, and that harm suffered would not have occurred but for this breach of care. The medical standard of care refers to the degree of care that a physician of similar education and background would have exercised in the same situation.
Holding a Doctor Liable for Harm can be Difficult
Even if you believe that the harm caused to your infant by your or your baby’s infection would not have occurred had your doctor exercised a greater degree of care in treating you, proving this can be difficult. Indeed, you will need the testimony of others, including other obstetricians, that speaks to the doctor’s breach of duty in order to win your suit. Pursuing a successful birth injury case against a obstetrician or other medical professional without the counsel of an experienced lawyer is unlikely; when you work with a lawyer, your lawyer can investigate your case, retain experts to offer statements and testimony, build your claim, and work hard to prove the extent of the damages you, your child, and your family have suffered.
Take Action Today
Knowing that your baby has been harmed as a result of a preventable infection, or an infection that could have been treated but was not, is devastating. While it can be hard to do, taking action early is important, as evidence will be preserved and you will surely be acting within the statute of limitations, which is two years in Ontario. Our lawyers can start working on your case today.
Schedule a Free Consultation
To schedule a free consultation with our birth infections lawyers at the office of the Preszler Law Firm, please call us directly or send us a message. Our lawyers have experience representing clients like you, and we know how important it is that your family recover compensation for harm suffered.