What Are The Legal Rights For Parents Of Infants With Birth Defects?

Some birth defects are caused by genetics, but others are the result of chemicals found in drugs and through environmental exposures. Drug companies have a duty to warn of possible side effects like birth defects.

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Birth defects are a common issue in the United States – approximately 150,000 babies are born each year with birth defects. Unlike birth injuries, which occur due to some form of trauma before or during delivery, birth defects usually develop as the infant is growing in the womb. 

These defects have a variety of causes, but the cause may not always be apparent. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, about 10% of birth defects can be linked to a specific cause – such as an environmental agent, drug, biological or nutritional factor. Another 20% are the result of genetics or chromosomal changes. And 70% of birth defects have no clear cause.

When Are Birth Defects Preventable?

Many of the 10% of birth defects with a specific cause could be prevented. For some of these causes, the responsibility is with the mother. For example, defects which result from smoking or alcohol use can easily be prevented by abstaining from these harmful activities during pregnancy. However, some birth defects occur due to no fault of the mother, but because of the negligence of another party.

Drug companies have a duty to warn of potential hazardous side effects for their drugs. But many of the drugs which cause birth defects are not identified as dangerous before they hit the open market. This is because drug companies rarely, if ever, test their drugs on pregnant women. 

In some cases, preventable environmental and chemical hazards lead to birth defects. For example, exposure to harmful chemicals in the workplace can affect a developing fetus.

In any case, parties who are responsible for exposing pregnant women to a birth defect hazard can be held liable for damages related to the birth defect.

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Birth Defects Caused By Prescription Drugs

Certain prescription drugs are classified as teratogens, or chemicals that can impair the development of a fetus. Many of these drugs have been tested and are perfectly safe to take if you’re not pregnant, but have not been tested on pregnant women. Because testing on pregnant women is considered unethical (since the effects on the fetus could be detrimental), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rarely approves drugs for use during pregnancy.

Sometimes, a drug may be prescribed to deal with the side effects of pregnancy (such as nausea) before the medical community is aware of its harmful effects. Since these drugs have not been tested on pregnant women, the community only becomes aware of their danger after a birth defect or other harmful side effect has surfaced in the real world.

However, in some cases, courts have determined that a pharmaceutical company knew of (or reasonably should have known of) the risks of drugs they were marketing to pregnant women, but ignored these risks. In other cases, doctors and pharmacists may also be responsible for prescribing or administering a drug with known harmful side effects for pregnant women. Any of these parties could be held liable in civil court when one of these drugs directly causes a birth defect.

Specific Drugs With A Risk For Birth Defects

There are several prescription drugs which have been linked to an increased risk of birth defects:

  • Antidepressants – Some Selective Serotonin Reputake Inhibitors (SSRI), which are used to treat anxiety and depression, can cause serious birth defects. Research has shown that maternal use of these drugs increases the likelihood of defects such as cleft palate, heart defects, and autism. Examples include Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, and others.
  • Antibiotics – While most antibiotics are safe for use during pregnancy, there are a couple which increase the risk of birth defects. Sulfa antibiotics have been linked to hear and brain problems and shortened limbs. Doctors owe a duty to their pregnant patients to avoid prescribing potentially harmful antibiotics.
  • Anti-Epilectic Drugs – Anti-seizure medications can harm developing fetuses and lead to conditions like spina bifida. However, seizures themselves can also have devastating effects on developing fetuses. In most cases, the risks of drug side effects are outweighed by the damage a seizure can cause.
  • Zofran – Zofran is an anti-nausea drug which has recently come under fire for its links to birth defects. Zofran has become the leading prescription drug for treatment of morning sickness in pregnant women. However, studies have uncovered a link to an increased risk for heart defects and cleft palates. Approximately 300 families have filed lawsuits against Zofran’s parent company, GlaxoSmithKline – alleging that the company marketed the drug to pregnant women even after learning of its birth defect risks.
  • Isotretinoin – Isotretinoin is a dermatological drug, intended to treat cases of severe acne. This drug should absolutely never be used by pregnant women, as the link to birth defects is well-established. Women are required to take pregnancy tests before use, and must use two forms of birth control if they’re prescribed the drug.

Pharmaceutical companies, doctors, and pharmacists should all be aware of the potential birth defect risks of certain medications. If one of these parties prescribes or administers a medication which they know or should have known causes birth defects, they could be held liable in a birth defect lawsuit.

Toxic Exposure

Some birth defects are caused by exposure to toxic chemicals or substances, either at home or in the workplace. In some cases, employers and product manufacturers could be held liable if they were aware of the harmful exposure but failed to take the necessary steps to prevent it.

Substances which can increase the risk of birth defects include:

  • Pesticides and fungicides
  • Lead
  • Heavy metals
  • Paints
  • Pollutants in soil and water

Do I Have Grounds For A Lawsuit?

Determining the cause of a birth defect is a complicated process. In many cases, the true cause may never be uncovered. But if your family has recently brought a baby with birth defects into the world, you likely have many questions about how this happened.

Some birth defects may be easily treated, but many others require several years, or even a lifetime of medical care. These costs can quickly add up, including expensive medical bills, lost wages from time missed from work, among other expenses.

If a defective drug or other preventable factor caused your child’s birth defect, it’s important to hold responsible parties liable for their negligence. A birth defect lawsuit can help provide your family with the financial assistance you need, and also protect other families from suffering through the same situation. As more families speak out, these drug companies are forced to take harmful drugs off the market. Doctors and pharmacists who negligently administer drugs must also be held accountable before they harm other expectant mothers.

To determine if you have grounds for a claim, contact Lipsig Law today for a free consultation. We’ll investigate the details of your case and consult with medical experts to determine if your child’s birth defect could have been prevented. Additionally, we work on a contingency fee basis, which means you owe us nothing unless we help your family secure financial compensation.

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