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How Negligent Medical Care Can Cause a Brain Injury

Published on February 12, 2024

When we think about brain injuries, we tend to focus on those caused by a blow to the head, a car accident, a motorcycle crash, a bad fall, or a sports injury. While those are common causes of traumatic brain injuries, not all brain injuries result from those types of accidents. An alarming number of brain injuries are the direct result of medical malpractice. Many of these are acquired brain injuries rather than traumatic brain injuries but brain damage caused by a medical error or negligence is just as life-altering as one caused by a car accident or assault.

When a brain injury results from a doctor or other medical provider’s substandard care, it’s particularly alarming. We trust our doctors with our very lives and the lives of our loved ones such as infants and children. We have every right to expect high-quality care from our medical professionals. When they breach their duty by acting negligently and the result is a brain injury, the negligent provider is liable for the enormous consequences to the victim.

How Negligent Medical Care Can Cause a Brain Injury

What Types of Medical Mistakes Cause Brain Injuries?

Brain injuries sometimes result from serious medical malpractice mistakes, often with devastating consequences. The types of medical mistakes and doctor negligence that sometimes result in brain injuries include the following:

  • Surgical errors
  • Misdiagnosis
  • Missed diagnosis
  • Anoxia or hypoxia (lack of oxygen or insufficient oxygen to the brain)
  • Anesthesia mistakes
  • Birth trauma
  • Infections and sepsis
  • Negligent intubation
  • Falls in nursing homes or other facilities

When a patient’s respiratory system or blood supply to the brain is interrupted due to an anesthesia error, intubation mistake, surgical error, or any negligent action on the part of a doctor or other provider, it’s medical malpractice. Sadly, brain injury is sometimes the result. Brain injuries due to medical malpractice can occur to patients of all ages, including birth injuries to newborns.

What Types of Brain Injuries Result From Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice results when an error or negligence causes an acquired brain injury or a traumatic brain injury. Patients who suffer brain injuries in medical settings may experience one of three types of injuries:

  • Traumatic brain injuries (TBI): This type of brain injury may occur from a fall in a medical facility or nursing home, or head trauma to an infant during a forceps delivery
  • Hypoxic brain injuries: This type of injury occurs when there’s an inadequate supply of oxygen to the brain. Intubation errors, anesthesia errors, and birth injuries from interrupted oxygen are examples of hypoxic brain injuries caused by medical errors
  • Anoxic brain injuries: When there is a complete lack of oxygen to the brain, hypoxia becomes anoxia. Unless promptly addressed with emergency measures, anoxia causes severe brain injury or death

Medical malpractice brain injuries most commonly occur during surgeries and to infants during childbirth.

Brain Injury During Surgery

Although no surgery is free of risks, a brain injury is one of the worst possible outcomes of surgery, short of death. Brain injuries occur in surgeries due to impaired respiration or lack of blood supply to the brain. Anesthesiology errors or mistakes during intubation may interfere with respiration and cause injury to the brain. In other circumstances, brain injuries during surgery occur due to blood loss. When there is insufficient blood flow to the brain, the cells suffer from a lack of oxygen and die. Strokes and cardiac arrest due to surgical errors also stop blood flow to the brain and result in brain injury.

Brain Injuries During Childbirth

Brain injuries due to medical malpractice are always devasting, but they are particularly tragic when they occur to infants on the cusp of life. Brain injuries occur during childbirth when there is a disruption to blood flow to the infant’s brain. This may occur due to cord prolapse, placental abruption, hemorrhage, shoulder dystocia, or head trauma from the forceful use of forceps or vacuum extractors.

Doctors have a duty to quickly identify signs of fetal distress during childbirth and to intervene quickly to prevent brain injury. Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) is one of the worst forms of brain injury in newborns, resulting in long-term impacts like cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, deafness, and disability. Prompt treatment with hypothermic therapy (HT) helps to minimize the long-term negative effects of HIE.

When a doctor fails to identify a problem or neglects to respond with prompt, appropriate care, their negligence is actionable medical malpractice. 

Signs of Brain Injury After a Medical Procedure

It’s important to watch for symptoms of a brain injury after serious medical procedures. Catastrophic brain injuries may be immediately apparent, but less severe brain injuries may have more subtle signs or symptoms that worsen in the hours and days after the procedure. If you suspect a loved one has suffered a brain injury due to medical malpractice, watch for symptoms such as the following:

  • Loss of bodily function
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Speech problems
  • Memory problems
  • Hearing impairment
  • Loss of eye movement
  • Loss of taste
  • Personality changes
  • Problems with mood and regulating emotions
  • Disorientation/confusion
  • Problems with balance and coordination
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Any of the above symptoms signal a need for immediate evaluation and emergency medical care to minimize the long-term impacts. 

Proving Negligence in Medical Malpractice Brain Injuries

If you suspect medical malpractice has caused a brain injury in yourself or a loved one, it’s essential to seek care from a trusted doctor Obtain copies of your medical records from the facility where the injury occurred. Then, call a Phoenix medical malpractice attorney and bring all records to your case evaluation.

It often takes a skilled investigator to document clear evidence of negligence in a medical malpractice claim after a brain injury. Proving medical malpractice occurred requires showing evidence that meets the legal definition of medical malpractice liability including the following points:

  • A doctor/patient relationship was in place at the time that the injury occurred
  • The doctor (or other provider) owed a duty of care to treat the patient at the level of medical care accepted by the medical community
  • The medical provider breached this duty through negligence
  • Their negligent breach of duty directly caused the brain injury
  • The patient suffered serious economic and non-economic damages due to the brain injury.

If the doctor failed to act in the way that another, reasonable medical professional would have under the same circumstances then they committed negligence and are liable for the patient’s damages like medical expenses, future medical expenses, and compensation for pain and suffering, disability, special education needs, and other applicable damages.

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