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Calculating Damages in a Birth Injury Case

Published January 15, 2024

When a child suffers a birth injury due to medical malpractice or negligence, the parents may have grounds to file a birth injury medical malpractice lawsuit. Forensic economics plays a crucial role in birth injury litigation. As expert forensic economists, The Knowles Group specializes in calculating economic damages and providing expert witness testimony for both plaintiffs and defendants involved in birth injury lawsuits. Our expertise lies in meticulously analyzing and quantifying the financial impact of such injuries.

If you’re facing a birth injury lawsuit settlement and need a comprehensive economic damage assessment for financial compensation, schedule a case consultation with us today.

Understanding Birth Injuries

In legal terms, a birth injury refers to any physical harm to a newborn baby that occurs before, during, or shortly after delivery. When severe, birth injuries can result in lifelong disabilities for the child. If a child’s birth injury is caused by medical negligence or malpractice, it may lead to a legal claim for compensation. Common birth injuries include

Cerebral Palsy: Negligence can lead to cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder caused by lack of oxygen or physical trauma that affects movement and muscle coordination through improper handling of birth complications, such as a delayed C-section or failure by medical professionals to address fetal distress.

Brachial Plexus Injuries: Injuries to the nerves supplying the arms and hands that can occur if excessive force is used during delivery, especially in cases of shoulder dystocia, where a baby’s shoulder gets trapped behind the mother’s pelvic bone.

Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE): A condition where the brain does not receive enough oxygen, leading to potential cognitive and physical impairments due to negligence in managing the birth process, such as failing to monitor fetal oxygen levels or delayed response to fetal distress.

Fractures: Bone fractures, particularly of the collarbone or clavicle, can happen if the baby is handled too roughly during delivery or if tools like forceps or vacuum extractors are improperly used.

Perinatal Asphyxia: This condition can be caused by a lack of proper monitoring and response to signs of distress in the baby or mother, leading to inadequate oxygen supply before, during, or after birth, potentially leading to various health issues.

Intracranial Hemorrhage: This can occur due to rough handling of the baby during birth, improper use of birth-assisting tools, or failure to manage conditions that increase the risk of hemorrhage, or bleeding inside the skull, which can lead to long-term complications.

What is the Average Birth Injury Claim Worth?

In a birth injury lawsuit that proceeds to trial, plaintiffs can anticipate substantial settlement amounts, often higher than typical medical malpractice cases, with the average birth injury settlement hovering around $1 million, with verdicts in trial cases averaging higher, sometimes reaching $1.6 million. However, settlement values can be much higher, with one of the highest birth injury settlements in history being $205 million.

Is There a Formula for Calculating Birth Injury Damages?

Calculating birth injury damages involves a detailed formula that considers various factors, including current and future medical expenses, loss of earning capacity, and non-economic damages like pain and suffering. Expert forensics utilize methodologies like life expectancy tables, present and future value calculations, and industry-specific data to arrive at an accurate estimate. A highly simplified formula is as follows

Birth Injury Damages = Economic Damages + Non-Economic Damages

Hypothetical Example

A newborn named Emma suffers a severe birth injury, leading to cerebral palsy. As a result, Emma’s parents hired a birth injury attorney, filed a medical malpractice claim, and began the birth injury lawsuit process against the hospital where she was delivered. After the litigation process had ended, the court determined that Emma’s case had an estimated settlement value of $5,890,000. We will use this hypothetical birth injury lawsuit to illustrate the complexity and extensiveness of calculating birth injury damages.

Damage Categories to Consider When Calculating a Birth Injury Settlement

In a birth injury settlement, expert forensics must consider several categories of economic damage to reach an accurate birth injury settlement value, including:

  • Medical and Healthcare Costs
  • Future Medical Care and Rehabilitation Expenses
  • Lost Earnings and Loss of Earning Capacity
  • Special Education and Care Needs
  • Home and Vehicle Modifications
  • Loss of Services

Medical and Healthcare Costs

These costs encompass immediate and long-term medical expenses resulting from the birth injury, including hospital stays, surgeries, medications, and any specialized medical equipment or care required. For severe injuries, these medical costs can accumulate over the child’s lifetime, requiring a detailed projection of future medical needs.

In Emma’s case, the immediate cost for neonatal intensive care and initial treatments is $50,000. The long-term costs are estimated at $1.2 million, covering regular doctor visits, medications, and medical equipment over her lifetime.

Future Rehabilitation Expenses

These damages account for the child’s ongoing rehabilitation and therapeutic needs, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and other forms of rehab. The cost of such care is often extensive and needs to be calculated considering the longevity and intensity of the treatments.

Emma’s future medical care and rehabilitation expenses for ongoing physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other rehabilitation services required throughout her life to maximize her independence and quality of life are estimated at $2 million.

Lost Earnings and Loss of Earning Capacity

This type of damage refers to the potential loss of income the child might suffer in the future due to the disability or limitations caused by the birth injury. When calculating loss of earning capacity, economists consider the child’s projected career path, lifetime earning potential, and the impact of the disability on their ability to work.

Assuming Emma would have worked until age 65, her loss of earning capacity is estimated at $1.5 million based on average lifetime earnings in her state, with adjustments for projected career growth and inflation.

Special Education and Care Needs

Birth injuries can lead to developmental delays or disabilities requiring special education and care services. These damages cover the cost of specialized educational needs, including private tutors, special schooling, and other educational resources necessary for the child’s development.

Emma’s special education costs, including personalized learning plans and potentially private schooling, are estimated at $500,000 from kindergarten through high school, while additional care needs, including after-school care and specialized tutors, add another $300,000.

Home and Vehicle Modifications

In cases where a birth injury results in physical disability, modifications to the home and vehicle might be necessary. This includes costs for things like wheelchair ramps, lifts, modified bathrooms, and specially equipped vehicles to accommodate the child’s specific needs.

Home modifications (such as ramps, modified bathrooms, and special beds) are estimated at $100,000, and vehicle modifications for accessibility are estimated at $40,000.

Loss of Services

This refers to the value of services that the injured child would have provided had the brain injury not occurred, including services they would have contributed to their household or family in the future, such as childcare for younger siblings, household chores, and other family responsibilities.

Emma’s loss of services damages are estimated at $200,000, covering the value of household services and familial contributions she would have provided had she not been injured.

The Importance of Proving Negligence

In birth injury litigation, to establish medical negligence, it’s essential for the claimant to show that the medical care deviated from the generally accepted standard in the medical community. This standard varies based on the specific medical field and geographical factors. Additionally, a physician might argue their treatment approach, though not widely accepted, falls within a minority of respected medical opinions, thereby justifying their actions. This is known as the “respectable minority rule.”

Understanding and proving these elements in a medical malpractice case can be complex, and it typically requires the support of an experienced birth injury lawyer and medical experts to build a strong case. To prove medical negligence in the context of a medical malpractice case, there are four key elements that must be established:

  1. Duty: This element is established as soon as a doctor-patient relationship is formed, conferring upon the doctor the responsibility to provide the most logical and effective treatment plan possible.
  1. Breach: A breach occurs when a healthcare provider fails to fulfill their duty, deviating from the medical community’s standard of care. This could involve overlooking more effective treatment methods or failing to apply the knowledge and skills expected of a medical professional.
  1. Injury (Causation): For a medical malpractice case to be viable, it must be shown that the patient suffered actual harm as a direct result of the healthcare provider’s breach of duty. This harm must be a direct result of the provider’s failure to provide adequate care and must involve both actual cause and proximate cause.
  1. Damages: The final element involves proving that the injury resulted in specific damages. These damages are typically monetary compensation for the harm caused by the doctor’s negligence. They can cover various losses, including lost wages, additional medical expenses, and pain and suffering.

We Provide Economic Damage Calculations for Birth Injury Lawsuit Settlements

At The Knowles Group, our expertise in forensic economics positions us uniquely to provide accurate and comprehensive economic damage calculations for birth injury lawyers in birth injury cases. We offer expert witness testimony backed by meticulous research and data analysis, ensuring that the financial impact of the injury is fully understood and accurately represented in court. Whether you are a plaintiff or a defendant in a birth injury case, partnering with us guarantees a thorough and professional economic damage assessment. Contact us for forensic economics consulting services in your birth injury litigation.

Eric Knowles, MBA

The Knowles Group has been providing professional economic services to the legal community since 1979. The firm has worked on behalf of thousands of attorneys in a dozen states and Canada. Testimony has been provided in both federal and state venues.