Botched Forceps Delivery Case: $6 Million Award

A British family has won a legal battle against the United Kingdom’s universal health care system, the National Health Service (NHS).  This story highlights the fact that birth injuries can happen in hospitals anywhere in the world.  In this case, a botched forceps delivery resulted in tragic consequences for the innocent victim.

The now 10-year-old victim has been paralyzed since birth because of a spinal cord injury he sustained during a forceps delivery.  The award is a huge victory for this young man’s family after pursuing this case for nearly a decade.

Forceps Delivery Causes Spinal Cord Injury

During his birth at King’s College Hospital in London in 2009 the victim suffered a spinal cord injury, leaving him paralyzed in all four limbs.   According to the Daily Mail, the judge who heard the case stated that the physician was negligent and failed to meet the standard of professional care.

The boy’s mother went into labor more than two  months before her due date.  She was carrying twins.  The victim in this case was delivered first, and his twin delivered next.  Sadly, his twin brother died just two weeks after birth.

During the delivery, the physician made several attempts to deliver the boy with forceps.  The father testified that nurses commented that the bruising on his face and chest was the worst bruising they had ever seen on a baby.

Contrary to regular NHS policies, there was no midwife or nurse present for the birth of the twins.   The NHS claimed that the surviving twin’s injuries were the unfortunate result of a straightforward forceps delivery.  However, none of the medical professionals who commented and recorded their concerns over the bruised appearance of the surviving twin testified at any point during the court case.

In his ruling, the judge said he believed the surviving twin to have been delivered with excessive force.  He believed the physician placed the forceps in the wrong position, having misjudged the baby’s position in the birth canal.  Further, once placed, the doctor pulled on the baby vigorously.  Not mincing his words, the judge said the doctor’s actions, namely his mishandling of a forceps delivery, caused the surviving twin’s permanent paralysis.

Due to the severity of his injuries, the surviving twin requires 24-hour care, a tracheostomy (breathing tube), and a ventilator to survive.

Case Settles for £5.1 Million

Two years after a judge initially ruled that the forceps delivery was botched, the King’s College Hospital Foundation Trust settled with the boy’s family.  The settlement included a £5.1 million (approximately $6.4 million) lump sum as well as a yearly payment of £658,800 every year until he turns 19.   Every year for the rest of his life at that point, the boy will receive a payment of £680,800.  These payments are designed to cover the cost of a lifetime of care.

Both the family and the judge who heard the case express their disbelief and disappointment with the NHS over their willingness to put this traumatized family through a lengthy legal battle before finally awarding them a settlement.  Now, the family hopes to move forward and focus on caring for their son.

Information about Forceps Delivery

Forceps are a medical tool that are shaped similar to salad tongs. They are designed to grasp the baby’s head and work with the mother’s contractions to successfully deliver the baby through the birth canal. 

why are forceps used in delivery?

There are various reasons a doctor or midwife may choose to use forceps during delivery, including:

  • Prolonged labor
  • Maternal exhaustion
  • Maternal infection
  • Fetal infection
  • Excessive bleeding prior to birth
  • Pain medications or epidurals that leave the mother unable to push
  • Low fetal heartbeat
  • Suboptimal presentation of the baby, such as a breech or transverse presentation

There are different types of forceps that are used to assist in different types of deliveries. It is important that doctors use the correct forceps and use them appropriately to avoid possible birth injuries. When used appropriately, forceps are generally considered a safe option to help progress delivery. The healthcare team must carefully monitor the mother and baby during delivery for signs of complications or distress.

The young man mentioned above that was left paralyzed by this forceps delivery was positioned in a sub-optimal position for vaginal delivery, prompting the doctor to use forceps to assist in the delivery.  Unfortunately, the doctor misjudged the baby’s position in the birth canal.  The result was his using the forceps inappropriately, including using excessive force on the baby’s head, neck and spinal cord.

Most doctors will not attempt a forceps delivery until the mother has been pushing for some time without success.  Forceps use during delivery is riskier than unassisted vaginal delivery, and increases the risk of birth injuries.  When necessary, and used properly, forceps can be a useful tool in successfully delivering a healthy baby via assisted vaginal delivery.

What are the Dangers of a Forceps Delivery?

Both mothers and infants risk injury during a forceps delivery. However, sometimes, situations arise when the baby needs some additional help being born. It is important that doctors weigh the benefits and risks of using any tools, including forceps. Knowing that there are risks is important for parents, so that they can make the best choices possible. Your doctor should advise you if they believe forceps are necessary.

Risks to mothers include:

  • Vaginal or perineal tearing
  • Necessary episiotomy
  • Fecal or urinary incontinence
  • Hemorrhage
  • Anemia
  • Bladder or urethra injuries

The injuries that forceps may cause to women are generally mild and generally heal without incident.

Risks to infants include:

Infants are at risk of birth trauma and injuries caused by the forceps and how the doctor uses them.

dangers of forceps delivery

Possible birth injuries include:

As you can see, the possible injuries to infants from forceps can be devastating. Many of these birth injuries can have long-lasting impacts on the baby and their health. In the worst cases, birth trauma can even be fatal.

Infant Spinal Cord Damage

The spinal cord runs from the base of the skull to the small of the back and is the electrical mainframe for the body.  The spinal cord is responsible for transmitting all nerve impulses throughout the body.  Because almost every body part responds to nerve impulses, the symptoms of a spinal cord injury can vary greatly. What’s more, the symptoms of a spinal cord injury in babies can be more challenging to identify as they cannot communicate what they are experiencing.

However, nerve damage in a newborn is always a cause for concern and certain symptoms should be taken seriously.  Parents of a newborn who have the following symptoms should be concerned about a spinal cord injury and should contact their healthcare provider:

  • Loss of sensation
  • Paralysis
  • Abnormal or unresponsive reflexes
  • Spasms or jerking limbs
  • Sharp stinging pain
  • Difficulty breathing
forceps delivery

A spinal cord injury like that suffered during a forceps delivery is considered a rare birth injury.  However, birth injuries do occur far more frequently than anyone would like to imagine. It is best to never underestimate how the use of birth-assisting tools could affect your delivery. Furthermore, complications can arise quickly and can quickly change the course of your birthing plan.

Using Excessive Force During Delivery

Spinal cord injuries will be more severe and will affect a larger portion of the body the higher up the spine the injury occurs.  That is why spinal cord injuries from forceps deliveries are so devastating.  Injury from misuse of forceps generally will occur around the head or neck as the baby is pulled down the birth canal.  A severe injury high up on the spine prevents regular nerve function throughout all the vertebrae below it.

As in the case of the young man from the U.K., a spinal cord injury in his neck during birth resulted in paralysis of all four limbs.  It also impaired his ability to breathe on his own.  Most cases of spinal cord damage are permanent, but not all spinal cord injuries cause physical paralysis.  Other victims of spinal cord damage may suffer from intellectual disabilities or developmental delays.  The most severe spinal cord injuries can result in death.

Was Your Infant Injured During a Forceps Delivery?

Medical professionals who deliver babies are responsible for the health of the mother and for the safe delivery of the baby.  Healthy pregnancies should result in healthy labor and delivery – and ultimately healthy babies. Unfortunately, complications do happen and sometimes even the most well-crafted birthing plan can go awry. Forceps deliveries are not as common now as they were in previous decades, however, there are many situations that may result in doctor’s reaching for these tools.

The use of forceps to deliver an infant admittedly comes with certain risks.  Responsible physicians will give mothers the option to refuse the use of forceps.  However, the responsibility to use forceps appropriately, and with the appropriate amount of force, remains squarely in the physician’s hands.  When a physician misuses a pair of forceps during assisted vaginal delivery and a mother or child is injured, the family should seek to hold that physician accountable.

The symptoms of a forceps delivery injury may not be as apparent as that of other injuries. However, parents should be aware of any signs of a possible injury, including a misshapen head, cephalohematoma, obvious nerve damage, skull fractures or seizures. If you notice any of these symptoms, talk to your child’s doctor right away.

Justice was slow to arrive for the family discussed above.  As they grieved the loss of one son and injury to another, the family spent a considerable sum of money and years of their lives fighting in court.  Don’t let that be your story.  If your infant was injured during a forceps delivery, contact Birth Injury Guide today.

At Birth Injury Guide, we offer legal guidance for families who have suffered as a result of healthcare negligence.  We can help you understand and protect your legal rights, and get the compensation you deserve.  Your family has suffered enough. Schedule a free consultation with one of our birth injury attorneys by calling 1-877-415-6603, or fill out our online form to request more information.

Sam Uribe

Written By Sam Uribe

Sam Uribe is a researcher and writer. She lends her expertise to the team at Birth Injury Guide to provide up-to-date and relevant content that clients can count on.