The loss of a baby can be one of the most traumatic experiences a person, couple or family has to deal with. Whether a baby is lost during pregnancy, or in the early weeks of life, the impact on you and your family can be devastating. Nothing can prepare you for the loss of a child, and it can be distressing to learn that medical staff could have done more to save them.

Whilst no amount of money could ever take away the pain caused by losing a baby, where medical staff could have done more, you may be able to pursue a clinical negligence claim for compensation.

What’s the difference between a stillbirth and a neonatal death?

A baby is stillborn where it is born dead after 24 weeks of pregnancy. A baby will be considered as having been stillborn if they show no signs of independent life, such as breathing or having a heartbeat after birth.

A neonatal death is a death that occurs within the first 28 days of life.

There is a significant legal distinction between a stillbirth, and a neonatal death, which acknowledges that in law, until a child shows signs of independent life, the child and the mother are considered a single legal entity.

Why do stillbirths happen?

Not all stillbirths happen as a result of negligence, and many stillbirths happen in apparently healthy babies where the reason for their death cannot be easily explained. The most commonly known medical reasons for stillbirths are:

  • Pregnancy and labour complications, such as preeclampsia, and placental abruption;
  • Complications with the placenta,
  • Bleeding before or during labour;
  • A genetic physical defect in the baby;
  • An infection in the mother that also affects the baby;
  • Problems with the umbilical cord;
  • High blood pressure disorders;
  • Medical complications with the mother;

Most stillbirths are considered unavoidable, but sadly there are occasions when the standard of medical care is found to be unreasonable and has contributed towards, or caused the death.

You may be able to make a clinical negligence claim following a stillbirth if, for example, medical staff:

  • Failed to give you regular check-ups and tests;
  • Failed to refer you to Consultant-led care in cases of high-risk pregnancies;
  • Missed symptoms or misinterpreted test results during check-ups;
  • Failed to manage or treat symptoms correctly or quickly enough.

Why do neonatal deaths happen?

As with stillbirths, not all neonatal deaths happen as a result of negligence. Common causes of neonatal deaths are:

  • Preterm birth;
  • Low birth weight;
  • Genetic abnormalities;
  • Infections.

Sadly there are times when a neonatal death may be avoided with the reasonable care of a medical practitioner. You may be able to make a clinical negligence claim following a neonatal death if, for example there was:

  • A failure to diagnose and treat a serious infection in the baby, leading to sepsis;
  • A delay in diagnosis and treatment of a newborn infection such as Group B Strep or Meningitis;
  • A failure to properly monitor and manage conditions such as jaundice or hypoglycaemia;
  • A failure to appropriately manage a labour that does not progress, leading to a lack of oxygen at birth.

What can I claim for?

A clinical negligence claim for the stillbirth of a baby will be a claim for compensation, made on behalf of the mother only, for any pain and suffering caused by a negligent stillbirth.

A mother can claim compensation after stillbirth to include:

  • the loss of fertility;
  • psychiatric injury;
  • funeral expenses;
  • unused items purchased for the baby;
  • care and assistance for the mother;
  • loss of earning for the mother;
  • psychological treatment.

A clinical negligence claim following a neonatal death will be made for both the mother, and on behalf of the estate of the baby. In addition to claiming for the losses listed above, a Statutory Bereavement Award can also be included for a neonatal death.

In rare circumstances, a claim may also be brought on behalf of those who suffer a recognised psychiatric injury as a result of witnessing the stillbirth or neonatal death. Such claims are referred to as “secondary victim” claims and are often made on behalf of fathers, or birthing partners.

Although a clinical negligence claim is one made for financial compensation, we understand that your motive for pursuing a claim may not be about the money, but instead about getting answers as to what happened and why. In some cases, by making a claim you may get these answers and an acknowledgment that things could have been done differently.

Is there a time limit for making a claim?

You will normally have 3 years from the date of the death of a child to make a claim following a stillbirth, or neonatal death.

However, there are circumstances in which the 3 year time limit will not start to run until the date that you became aware that there may have been negligence.

Whilst we always recommend that you speak to us as soon as possible, please don’t hesitate to speak to a member of our team no matter how much time has passed.

How can we help?

At Ison Harrison we recognise that seeking legal advice following a stillbirth or neonatal death can be a daunting and emotional experience. That’s why our team are on hand to provide you with legal advice, with empathy and compassion.

If you would like to speak to a member of our team, call us for an initial free consultation on 0113 284 5000.

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