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Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) Lawyer

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is one of the most common birth injuries among full-term infants. This disorder commonly leads to severe, long-lasting, and expensive developmental and neurological problems. Victims of this birth injury may wish to seek compensation for their losses. An experienced birth injury attorney can assist victims in navigating the legal process in acquiring due compensation.

What is hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE)?

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a birth complication caused by the interruption of blood flow and oxygen to the brain. It can cause long-term, severe neurological problems, even if cerebral blood flow is only inhibited for a short time. Additionally, other organs, such as the heart and kidneys, may suffer damage from the lack of oxygen to the brain. 

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, HIE is far more common in areas with fewer medical care resources. In the United States, neonatal HIE occurs in 1.5 to 2.5 of every 1000 live, full-term births and nearly 60% of preterm births.

What causes hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy?

Although HIE most commonly occurs at birth and is due to injury, HIE can also occur during pregnancy or in the postnatal period. Tests including the Apgar score, which obstetrics physicians and pediatricians use to measure a baby’s cognitive faculties, can typically identify warning signs of HIE shortly after birth.  

Many of the factors that make a pregnancy high risk can also increase the likelihood of HIE. However, it can also occur in healthy pregnancies. Some potential causes of HIE during pregnancy are:  

  • Preeclampsia 
  • Maternal diabetes 
  • Vascular or cardiac disease
  • Improper fetal heart monitoring
  • Infections
  • Placenta malformation
  • Maternal drug use during pregnancy
  • Fetal anemia
  • Failure to prevent premature birth
  • Malformations in lungs and other vital organs 

Common causes of HIE during labor include: 

Some possible causes of HIE during the neonatal period are:  

  • Low fetal blood pressure
  • Pathogens and infections present in the newborn
  • Lung or heart disease
  • Brain or skull trauma during delivery
  • Respiratory or cardiac failure
  • Extremely premature birth 

Though some of these conditions are unavoidable, many are preventable if they are identified early. In some cases, an obstetrician will recommend a C-section to mitigate the risk of HIE. If your doctor fails to recognize or treat any of these potential causes of HIE, you have a viable medical malpractice lawsuit. 

What are the signs and symptoms of hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy?

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy can present a wide array of symptoms depending on the severity, duration, and timing of the interruption in cerebral blood flow. Some of the most common include:  

  • Abnormal reaction to sights and sounds: The neurological damage sustained during the injury can impair a baby’s ability to process and respond to sensory information. Some newborns with HIE will be entirely unresponsive to lights and sounds, whereas others have strong responses to stimulation. 
  • Abnormal movements or seizures: HIE can disrupt electrical impulses in the brain, which can, in turn, cause neonatal seizures, jerky movements, or difficulty focusing eyes. 
  • Feeding problems: An interruption of oxygen to the brain can lead to underdeveloped muscles of the neck and throat. Low muscle tone, referred to as hypotonia, could cause difficulty latching and feeding in the neonatal period.
  • Weak Cry: Underdeveloped diaphragm and vocal muscles could indicate HIE.
  • Critical organ dysfunction: HIE can damage other organs, such as the heart, liver, or lungs. 

Typically, when a child shows signs of HIE, treatment begins immediately, but testing does not stop. Doctors may give a newborn with suspected HIE repeated Apgar tests and neurological exams throughout the postnatal period to gauge the severity of the damage. 

Can HIE be treated?

Some children with mild cases of HIE recover fully. However, up to 60% of full-term infants affected with HIE die by the age of two or endure severe disabilities. Medical research has suggested that the outlook for a child with HIE might improve with diligent follow-ups and early intervention. 

Reversing the effects of neurological injuries during early childhood can be complex. There is no easy cure for brain damage or severe harm to critical organs caused by HIE. There are, however, numerous treatments that may reduce the severity of long-term injuries associated with HIE. Most of these therapies involve addressing risk factors that could exacerbate the damage, such as: 

  • Supporting and regulating heart function and blood pressure with medication or IV fluids 
  • Encouraging normal kidney and liver function with medication, or even surgery in some cases 
  • Mechanical ventilation 
  • Medications to control neonatal seizures 

Brain cooling is one widely accepted treatment used to mitigate the damage caused by HIE. Medical professionals at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago often opt for this procedure to treat HIE-affected infants. Doctors use a cooling blanket or cooling cap to reduce the newborn’s body temperature several degrees below normal for 2-3 days. Research has shown that the process can temporarily reduce the infant’s cerebral metabolic rate, potentially shielding nerve cells from further damage. 

Advancing technology suggests a potentially bright future for developing treatments as well. One study done at the Kennedy Krieger Institute found that several chemical compounds showed potential for reducing the long-term neurological damage caused by HIE. 

What are the long-term complications of hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy?

 The neurological damage from hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy can continue to affect a child’s development far past the postnatal period. A study published by the European Journal of Pediatrics in 2007 indicated that, while many mild cases of HIE where symptoms subside within one year have little chance of long-term complication, nearly 90% of moderate or severe cases led to significant disabilities and developmental problems throughout the child’s life. 

The damage done to a baby’s brain from HIE can often lead to serious, lifelong complications, such as: 

  • Cerebral palsy 
  • Epilepsy 
  • Hearing impairment 
  • Blindness
  • Cognitive dysfunction and problems with learning, speaking, and social interaction
  • Decreased hand-eye motor coordination or difficulty walking 

Who is liable for hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy injuries?

Although many factors can contribute to HIE, in some cases, medical negligence is to blame. In cases of negligence where the treatment caused the injury, the hospital itself is the liable party. Likewise, the hospital could be held legally responsible for the decisions made by its staff, depending on internal policies and regulations. 

 Sometimes, the nursing staff may also be liable for negligence leading to HIE. Nurses are responsible for spotting warning signs that should prompt intervention during labor. If they failed to act on any abnormalities or follow proper procedures, they could be liable for the harm caused by their action or inaction. 

Finally, individual physicians might be liable for negligence that lead to birth injuries. Such cases of medical malpractice are more common than most people realize. 

$16 Million


for a child who suffered a brain injury due to negligent nursing and medical care during labor and cesarean section.

$14 Million


for a child who suffered a brain injury due to lack of oxygen during birth

$11.5 Million


for a child with hypoxic-ischemic brain injury

How can a hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy attorney help me?

No family should have to shoulder medical bills as a result of a medical professional’s lack of proper care. A birth injury lawyer can help you build a claim for compensation for your undue expenses and suffering. As of 2014, the average settlement for brain-damaged infants was around $524,000. 

 Hospitals are massive institutions with well-armed legal teams. Working with an experienced attorney will give you the best chance of success in proving liability for your losses.  

At Levin & Perconti, we care about the health and safety of the children in our Chicago community. That’s why we’ve successfully litigated multiple birth injury cases. We won $3.5 million for our client when staff at Northwest Memorial failed to perform a necessary C-section and $6.5 million for another client when the medical team at Lutheran General failed to follow proper procedure resulting in a brain injury that later led to cerebral palsy. Other notable results include:  

  • $16 million settlement for a child who suffered a brain injury due to negligent nursing and medical care during labor and cesarean section. 
  • $14 million verdict for a child who suffered a brain injury due to lack of oxygen during birth
  • $11.5 million settlement for a child with hypoxic-ischemic brain injury 

How can I file an HIE injury claim?

Under Illinois law, the victim of HIE injury or their guardian can file a birth injury claim. The Illinois Compiled Statutes state that a plaintiff can file a claim up to eight years after the injury occured. 

At Levin & Perconti, our injury lawyers have helped many families get the compensation they need after a birth injury. Let us help you understand your legal options to file a claim and determine the value of your case. Contact our hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy attorneys today for a free consultation.