Stillbirth Compensation Claims and Neonatal Death
Nothing can be more devastating for parents than the loss of their child, and this tragedy will be compounded in the rare cases where their death at birth was preventable. Medical advancements mean that stillbirth or death during birth is a rare occurrence, but there remains an alarming number of infant deaths that could be avoided. In such cases, you may be able to make a stillbirth or neonatal death negligence claim.
Our specialist clinical negligence lawyers understand the emotional turmoil caused to families as a result of the loss of a child during pregnancy or at birth. For this reason, we will do everything we possibly can to provide dedicated care and support throughout the investigation and stillbirth claims process while seeking justice in the form of stillbirth compensation or neonatal death compensation.
What is stillborn?
The loss of a child is a tragedy whenever it happens, but technically a baby is only considered to have been stillborn if it shows no sign of life after 24 weeks pregnancy. Prior to 24 weeks, the loss is medically classified as a miscarriage.
How common is stillbirth in the UK?
According to the Office of National Statistics, there were 615,557 live babies born in the United Kingdom in 2020. There were 2,429 stillbirths, producing a rate of 3.9 in every 1,000 births.
Reassuringly, this is a reducing rate, thanks largely to the introduction at some maternity units of the national guidance “Saving Babies’ Lives Care Bundle”. However, NHS England still considers this rate to be too high and estimated in 2018 that 600 cases of stillbirth could have been prevented. At the start of 2021, the rates of stillbirth were higher than average, coinciding with the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Why do stillbirths happen?
It should be stressed that many stillbirths and deaths at birth happen in apparently healthy babies and the reason for their loss cannot be easily explained. The known medical reasons for stillbirth and neonatal death are usually associated with one of the following:
- Complications with the placenta, resulting in a breakdown in the nourishment of the unborn child.
- Pre-eclampsia, a condition causing high blood pressure to the mother.
- Infection in the mother.
- Bleeding during pregnancy or labour.
- Problems with the umbilical cord.
- A genetic or physical disorder
Most deaths during pregnancy or at birth are considered unavoidable, but there are sadly occasions when the standard of medical care is found to be sub-standard and has contributed towards, or caused the death.
Examples of avoidable contributing factors towards a stillborn child include:
- Insufficient screening of the foetal growth.
- Failing to adequately monitor the foetus in labour.
- Failing to admit the mother to hospital at appropriate time during labour.
- Failures in resuscitation.
- Failures in care during the newborn phase.
- Failure to properly investigate reductions in foetal movement.
In such cases, you may be able to make a stillbirth claim for negligence.
What can I claim following a stillbirth or a death of a child at birth?
A stillbirth compensation claim or claim for the death of a child at birth can be considered where there has been negligent treatment. There is a significant legal distinction between a stillbirth and a death during birth (neonatal), which acknowledges the fact that the law considers an unborn child and the mother to be a single legal entity.
If a child has shown no sign of independent life, such as breathing or having a heartbeat after birth, they will be considered to be stillborn. As such, the claim is by the mother for her personal injury, usually the psychological harm caused by the trauma. It is not possible to claim for the bereavement of the child.
A mother can claim compensation after stillbirth to include the loss of fertility, psychiatric injury and the loss of being prevented from bringing her pregnancy to conclusion. It is also possible to claim:
- Funeral expenses
- Unused items for the baby
- Care and assistance for the mother
- Loss of earnings for the mother
- Psychological treatment
There are also examples of cases where it has been possible, in certain situations, to recover the cost of future fertility treatment and the cost of having any further children on a private basis.
A neonatal death is different as the child has shown signs of independent life, and the claim will be for the mother and the estate of the deceased child. In these circumstances, an additional claim can be brought for a statutory bereavement award.
It is also possible in both scenarios for stillbirth negligence claims to be brought by secondary victims, usually the other parent, for the psychological injury caused by the death.
What is the role of the Coroner?
The Coroner has a duty to investigate deaths where there has been an indication that it happened in violent or unnatural circumstances, or where the cause of death is unknown.
At present, the Coroner does not have the power to investigate a stillborn child because the child is not considered legally to be an independent life. However, a Coroner can carry out an investigation into whether a child was born alive or stillborn.
A Coroner is able to investigate a neo-natal death. As part of the investigation, the Coroner may decide that a post-mortem is required to find out how a person died. Other investigations that a Coroner might undertake include obtaining witness statements, obtaining the medical records and holding an Inquest. Any death arising in hospital should be reported to the Coroner if there is an indication of negligence.
What is the purpose of an Inquest?
An Inquest is a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding a death, and the main purpose is to establish who the deceased was, how they died, where and when.
An Inquest establishes sufficient details to enable the death to be registered. A Coroner has the power to ask questions of key witnesses, such as hospital staff, and may allow interested parties, such as relatives or their lawyers, to also ask questions.
An Inquest is not intended to be an inquiry into who was to blame for the death, but during the Coroner’s investigation and the Inquest, important information is likely to come to light that will assist in proving whether a failure of care contributed towards the death.
In addition to pursuing a claim for compensation after stillbirth, IBB has an experienced team of lawyers and advocates who will be able to provide you with advice during the Coroner’s investigation into the death and legal representation at the Inquest.
How good are IBB Law?
We are accredited by the Law Society for Personal Injury Law, reflecting our expertise in this area, including stillbirth claims. IBB Claims’ partner Malcolm Underhill has particular expertise with all types of brain injuries, being accredited as a Brain Injury Specialist by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL).
Legal 500 judges IBB as having a “good” clinical negligence department and “puts the client’s interests at the forefront of every decision.” Simon Pimlott has “a real eye for detail and works incredibly hard to get the best result for each client.” Simon has also been described by the publication as a “Rising Star”.
Chambers describes Malcolm as being a highly experienced personal injury practitioner with a strong focus on cases that involve brain injury. A client notes: "He is a very personable, sympathetic professional that has helped us as a family…"
A market source praises Malcolm’s "clear and empathetic understanding of the individual client and family situation." One impressed client adds: "Malcolm Underhill has been superb from the outset. He has in-depth knowledge gained from extensive experience, which is certainly advantageous."
Chambers and Partners also record that Simon Pimlott "communicates effectively and swiftly" and "works in a highly professional and client-focused way" according to commentators.
Contact our stillbirth claims solicitors today
Talk to IBB's specialist clinical negligence compensation solicitors for advice on bringing a stillbirth compensation claim or death during birth compensation claim. We are accredited by the Law Society, as well as being recognised by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers.