Indianapolis Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy Attorneys


Doctors, nurses, and other health care providers owe a duty of care to the pregnant mothers and babies they treat during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Although there are inherent risks involved in childbirth, negligence and substandard care can dramatically increase the potential for preventable injuries, life-altering consequences, or even death – especially in relation to hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).

Wagner Reese is a high-caliber personal injury practice serving residents in Indianapolis and throughout the state of Indiana. Over the years, we’ve proven our ability to handle complex medical malpractice and birth injury claims, including those involving devastating injuries such as HIE and infant brain damage. Our attorneys are readily available to discuss your potential case, rights, and options, and explain what we can do to guide you through the legal journey ahead.

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    HIE: A Devastating Birth Injury

    Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a serious and potentially life-threatening medical condition involving decreased blood and oxygen to an infant’s brain (a form of birth asphyxia). This deprivation can result in infant brain damage, as well as heightened risks of significant impairment, permanent disability, or death.

    Though the effects of HIE and related disabilities depends on various factors – such as the severity and duration of oxygen deprivation and management of conditions by medical professionals immediately after complications – families with children born with HIE must often confront a lifetime of physical, emotional, and financial hurdles, including:

    • The costs of long-term medical care and monitoring
    • Expenses for specialized education, accommodations, and other needs
    • Intellectual and developmental disabilities, including delays in reaching developmental milestones
    • A child’s diminished ability to work and earn wages in the future, or support and care for themselves
    • Emotional and psychological suffering of parents and families

    HIE & Medical Malpractice

    While pregnancy and childbirth do pose risks, injuries such as hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy and infant brain damage are heavily associated with medical negligence and the failures of doctors, nurses, and other health care providers who fail to meet their “duty of care” – or their professional and legal obligation to provide acceptable care. In birth injury lawsuits involving HIE, a family alleges their child’s injury resulted from a failure to meet this duty, and that it could and should have been prevented.

    HIE may be caused by a number of medical mistakes and forms of malpractice during various phases of pregnancy and delivery. For example:

    • During pregnancy – Doctors who treat pregnant mothers have a duty to reduce risks and provide a level of treatment any reasonably competent physician would be able to provide. This means being able to identify and properly address known risk factors for oxygen deprivation that can lead to HIE, such as low or high blood pressure in the mother, placental ruptures or reduced blood flow, maternal infections, umbilical cord problems, and other potential risks.
    • During labor and delivery – Proper care and prompt response to complications is critical during labor and delivery and to avoiding preventable oxygen deprivation. If doctors and nurses fail to appropriately monitor signs of fetal distress, for example, they may fail to recognize when an infant is at risk of suffering brain damage and / or fail to take the necessary immediate response, such as performing a C-section. Other acts of negligence may also lead to oxygen deprivation during childbirth, such as medication errors involving the improper use of labor-inducting drugs or anesthesia, birth trauma and injuries caused by forceps or vacuum extractors or an inappropriate response to shoulder dystocia, and more.
    • After birth – Medical professionals also have obligations to properly and promptly administer necessary treatments to manage complications and medical conditions involving infants. In cases of oxygen deprivation, this includes not only a prompt response during delivery (such as an emergency C-section), but also post-delivery treatment such as therapeutic hypothermia, or “brain cooling,” which can reduce risks of long-term damage. When there is reason to suspect HIE, doctors are required to perform therapeutic hypothermia.

    When Should I Hire an HIE Birth Injury Attorney in Indianapolis?

    Look to hire a qualified attorney as soon as you suspect that the labor and delivery process may have resulted in an HIE birth injury. This type of injury can significantly alter and even threaten a child’s life, while also leading to significant financial challenges due to medical bills and long-term care. Often, these burdens can last a lifetime.

    Whether they actively caused the birth injury, or didn’t react fast enough to conditions that may have caused it, the delivering doctor, nurse, or hospital may be liable. It’s also possible that drug and medical device manufacturers are liable for the injury the newborn child sustained.

    Contacting an attorney early in the process creates a greater chance of getting the justice and recompense you deserve. You’ll have experts by your side who can help you better understand the situation and help your child and family get the support you deserve.

    How Long Do You Have to Sue for Medical Malpractice in Indiana?

    In the state of Indiana, patients or their representatives have just two years to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. The two years are generally counted from the moment the alleged act of malpractice occurs.

    However, the law differs slightly in the case of birth injuries. As outlined by the Indiana State Medical Association, minors under the age of six have until their eighth birthday to file a malpractice lawsuit.

    Finally, in some circumstances, courts may allow patients to file a lawsuit after the usual two-year period has expired if the patients could not have reasonably discovered the malpractice within that time frame.

    The extended timeline and these exceptions are relevant for HIE, since symptoms don't always immediately appear after the child's birth injury occurs. Still, getting in touch with an experienced birth injury attorney early can ensure that neither of the limitations becomes a potential issue.

    What Questions Should I Ask an HIE Birth Injury Lawyer in Indianapolis?

    In a matter as delicate and sensitive as a newborn child, you have to make sure you find the right healthcare professional to represent your case. These questions can help you find the most qualified birth injury attorneys:

    • How long have you been handling birth injury cases?
    • How long have you practiced law in the state of Indiana?
    • Are you familiar with the nuances of HIE-related injuries?
    • How many birth injury and HIE cases have you handled to completion?
    • How many of those cases did you settle before trial, how many did you try, and how many did the court dismiss?
    • Will I be working with you or someone else from your firm? How many people will be involved in this case?
    • How do you calculate your fees?

    It also makes sense to ask questions related to your specific situation to ensure that both you and the attorney or law firm you work with are well-prepared for the process.

    More FAQs

    What Is the Difference Between a Birth Injury and a Birth Defect?

    A birth defect is an injury or other health issue that begins before delivery starts while the baby is still in the womb. A birth injury, meanwhile, occurs during labor, as the baby is born.

    Birth defects are relatively common, with research showing that between 2% and 3% of all infants are born with defects. Genetics can cause some infections by the mom during pregnancy, or exposure to drugs through the mother while she is pregnant.

    Meanwhile, about 7 in 1,000 children (or 0.7% of all newborn infants) experience birth injuries in the labor and delivery process. Physical pressure during the journey through the birth canal  usually causes these injuries, which in some cases results in nerve damage or broken bones.

    While some minor injuries are often difficult to avoid, significant injuries can be the result of negligence by the medical professional.

    When you hire an attorney, you’re getting their knowledge, experience, and reputation. Without that support, you’re fighting an uphill battle against insurance companies and their legal teams.

    What Is an HIE Birth Injury?

    Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a type of birth injury that could threaten your infant’s life.  Decreased blood and oxygen flow to the infant’s brain, resulting in brain damage that could become chronic, leading to disability or even death.

    In fact, studies have shown that between 40% and 60% of infants with an HIE birth injury either have severe disabilities or die by age 2.

    As the nonprofit HIE Help Center points out, the full extent of the damage a child can experience from HIE is not always clear right after birth for two reasons:

    When blood flow is cut off to parts of the brain, cells begin to break down, die, and release substances, which are toxic to other cells. These cells then begin to die off and continue the chain reaction, which causes brain injury to spread over a period of hours or days. Also, damage from HIE may occasionally not become apparent until a child has developmental delays.

    For example, HIE can impact children’s mobility. However, those impacts are impossible to diagnose until an infant becomes mobile in the crawling and walking stages during their first year of life.

    Is HIE a Traumatic Brain Injury?

    Because traumatic brain injuries are typically those resulting from a blow or jolt to the head, HIE is not always a traumatic brain injury. Its causes are more varied and can range from problems with the umbilical cord to low blood pressure in the mother.

    However, many of the symptoms and consequences of HIE are similar to a traumatic brain injury because both can cause the death of brain cells and nerves. Both are significant issues for a newborn and can result in challenges and disabilities that last for years and even decades.

    What Is the Difference Between HIE and Cerebral Palsy?

    HIE and cerebral palsy are not the same, but an HIE birth injury can cause cerebral palsy. HIE is a brain injury that can cause both cognitive and physical disabilities, leading to brain damage that can impact motor signals to the rest of the body. Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group term for any disorder that affects a child’s ability to move and maintain balance.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, different types of cerebral palsy can lead to stiff muscles, uncontrollable movements, or poor balance and coordination. Depending on which parts of the brain HIE affects, it can cause any of these types of CP, leading to significant motor issues in the children who have to experience it.

    What Causes HIE Injuries at Birth?

    The lack of blood or oxygen flow to the brain that causes hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy can itself be traced to a few common causes. During pregnancy, problems with blood flow to the placenta, drug or alcohol abuse, and lung malformations can all lead to HIE as a birth defect long before labor begins. During labor and delivery, common causes include:

    • Umbilical cord problems.
    • Rupture of the uterus or abruption of the placenta.
    • Excessive bleeding from the placenta.
    • Abnormal fetal position, like the breech (legs first) position.
    • Prolonged late stages of labor.
    • Very low blood pressure in the mother.

    What Is the Most Common Cause of HIE?

    The most common cause of HIE is the lack of blood flow or oxygen to the brain. That, in turn, is typically caused by some underdevelopment of the organs responsible for that blood flow, as well as any issues during the birthing progress that can cut off the flow of oxygen or blood.

    Does Medical Malpractice Cause HIE?

    Many of the causes of infant brain damage occur naturally. However, an HIE birth injury can also commonly be traced to medical negligence due to the failures of doctors, nurses, and other health providers:

    • Doctors who treat pregnant mothers have to identify and properly address known risk factors for oxygen deprivation.
    • During labor and delivery, proper care and fast responses to complications are critical, like performing a C-section in a timely fashion when recognizing that an infant is at risk.
    • After birth, medical professionals need to promptly administer treatments to manage complications and medical conditions like a treatment known as “brain cooling.”

    When medical providers fail to make these immediate adjustments, they can put the infant at a higher risk of HIE or worsening its effects.

    How Common Is HIE at Birth?

    One study estimates that neonatal HIE, which occurs during the birthing process, happens in approximately 1.5 to 2.5 of every 1,000 live births in developed countries. Because symptoms don’t always appear immediately, the exact number is difficult to narrow down.

    Of course, these are still estimates that are generalized and don’t take individual situations into account. The risk for HIE increases significantly with medical error, especially when doctors and other healthcare providers don’t react quickly to some of the risk factors that can cause this birth injury.

    What Are the Symptoms of an HIE Birth Injury?

    Infants who suffer from HIE can show a variety of signs that alerts doctors, nurses, and even parents to the fact that something is wrong. The most common symptoms of hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy include:

    • A lack of typical reflexes, especially as those reflexes develop after birth and in the first few months.
    • Abnormal movements and, in severe cases, even seizures.
    • Problems with breathing, including gasping and other movements that show a struggle to get oxygen.
    • Decreased alertness and activity, especially in the first few months since babies should begin to recognize the world around them.
    • Motor activity issues, both with fine motor skills (like grasping small items) and gross motor skills (like crawling and walking)

    Not all these signs and symptoms necessarily appear as soon as the baby is born. They can gradually begin to surface as the baby gets the first pediatrician check-up. Talk to your pediatrician about the possibility of HIE if the infant misses some developmental milestones related to the above areas.

    What Are the Possible Long-Term Effects of an HIE Birth Injury?

    HIE is one of the leading causes of infant mortality in the United States. One study estimates that between 15% and 20% of infants diagnosed with HIE will pass away within the first week of being born. But those who survive are not safe yet. The same study also showed that of the surviving babies, around 25% will suffer permanent brain damage.

    Some children, fortunately, can fully recover. They typically suffer from milder cases of HIE, which can cause stiff muscles and feeding problems but often dissipates within the first few weeks and months of life. Even in those mild cases, though, new parents can suffer through significant struggles while their newborn struggles to breathe and move.

    Is HIE a Disability?

    While an HIE birth injury itself is not a disability, the health issues it can lead to for infants and small children can be. Common disabilities caused by hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy include:

    • Learning disabilities.
    • Brain bleeds.
    • Seizures and epilepsy.
    • Language disorders like speech delay.
    • Behavioral and emotional disorders like autism, ADHD, and depression.
    • Limitations in hearing and vision.
    • Cerebral palsy.
    • I/DD (intellectual and developmental disabilities).

    These disabilities can arise from multiple causes, but typically originate in the brain, which is where HIE attacks.

    Your Rights When Pursuing a Birth Injury Lawsuits

    The unfortunate truth is that HIE is commonly preventable. The silver lining, however, is that parents and families do have rights when medical malpractice is to blame for their child’s injuries. Exercising those rights through the filing of a birth injury lawsuit can be critical to not only allowing victims to recover needed compensation, but also to ensuring accountability and prompting changes that may very well prevent other children and families from suffering similar fates.

    At Wagner Reese, our award-winning trial lawyers are passionate about protecting the rights of the injured and the wronged, but want to remind victims that compensation is never automatically granted or guaranteed. The corporations and insurance companies which defend against these cases are focused on paying as little as possible, and they go to great lengths to deny liability and evade payment of compensation. This being the case, it becomes critical to work with a firm that has the resources, targeted experience, and professional connections these complex claims require.

    Learn More About Your Rights & Options: Call Wagner Reese Today.

    Wagner Reese is comprised of Indianapolis HIE attorneys who leverage over 150+ years of collective experience and considerable knowledge in medical malpractice law to fight for families in a range of birth injury cases. Over the years, our attorneys have earned the respect and esteem of their colleagues and our local communities, as well as top-tier distinctions such as Indiana Super Lawyers® and Indiana Trial Lawyer of the Year. Our experience and abilities to litigate tough cases is matched only by our genuine passion for helping families during some of the most difficult times in their lives.

    Learn how Wagner Reese can fight for you by discussing a birth injury case personally with a member of our team. Contact us today for a free case review.


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