Managing expectations: What will a birth injury settlement mean for your family?

Newborn baby girl inside incubator in the NICU

When many of us dream about the future, our minds turn to “the plan.” The plan is an ever-changing blueprint for how to achieve the life we want for ourselves and our families. These plans may include education and training for a desired career, dating to find a partner, having children by a certain age, and/or earning a certain amount of money to maintain a desired lifestyle.

Life, of course, does not always go according to plan, and I know this to be true. Sometimes when we’re thrown off course, we can adapt quite easily and forge ahead. Other times, a major event will irreversibly change our futures. For example, if your newborn baby sustains a birth injury – particularly a severe birth injury – suddenly the life you’ve envisioned for yourself, and your child looks dramatically different.

The period of adjustment we go through as we reconcile our dreams with our newfound reality can be difficult. As you grieve the loss of the life that you envisioned for your child, you may look for a way to find a sense of closure. A lawsuit against the medical providers whose negligence caused or contributed to the birth injury is one avenue toward this goal. But, it’s not the only road to healing.

In this blog post, I examine what grieving a birth injury can look like for a parent or a child’s loved one. I explain what a birth injury settlement or court award can mean for you and your family as you heal, and also what it cannot do for you. Although obtaining the financial resources from a birth injury lawsuit is often essential to help you and your child, it may not be the only thing you need to recover from a life-changing disability.

A traumatic event and subsequent traumas.

A debilitating birth injury that causes permanent and significant disability is not on the minds of most parents when they learn they’re expecting. When this kind of tragedy occurs, not only does the future you envision look very different, you must confront a ‘present’ that can be exceptionally difficult. There are many ways parents and loved ones respond to the new and unexpected circumstances that come with caring for a child with a disability. Some are able to rise to the occasion, push ahead and come together to meet this challenge. But, for others, the period of adjustment causes additional hardship including:

  • The financial costs of caring for a child with a disability (this can be immense and they often grow as the child ages)
  • Home renovations
  • Ongoing therapies
  • Specialized mobility or other equipment (all unexpected expenses)

Some families may go into debt or experience significant financial strain. The time commitment required to care for a child with a severe disability is generally far greater than a caregiver was anticipating. They may need to give up their job or reduce their work hours. Exhaustion and compassion fatigue can set in. Navigating the healthcare and education systems for a child with a disability poses additional challenges. Relationships and mental health can both suffer from financial stress, emotional stress, unresolved guilt, blame, sadness, and anger over what has happened and what it means for a family’s life.

An ending, or just another step on your journey?

Some parents and loved ones of a child with a birth injury are hesitant to file a lawsuit out of deference to doctors and medical providers. They want to believe they did their best and it can be hard to accept that someone’s negligence caused harm to your child. For others, a lawsuit is not only necessary to obtain sufficient funds for their child’s special needs but it is also seen as a way to get a sense of justice for their child and themselves.

Once again, there are expectations (or dreams) about how you will feel and what life will be like once you receive a settlement or court award. Unfortunately, sometimes there is disappointment alongside the relief that comes with more financial security.

While some people find receiving money for their child’s injury just as good as an apology for what happened, others may feel unfulfilled if the settlement does not include an apology, a formal admission of negligence, or any suggestion that the medical provider or institution will change practices to ensure this kind of tragedy does not occur again.

Even if any of these kinds of statements are forthcoming, they will not change your child’s injury, they will not fix relationship issues, they will not alleviate all emotional and physical stress, and they will not necessarily resolve feelings of anger, blame, and guilt.

In short, some parents find that the sense of closure they obtain from a successful lawsuit is not enough, in itself, to give them what they need to move on with their lives.

A holistic concept of healing and closure.

Only you will know what you and your child will need to move on from a tragic birth injury to living your best life. But, based on our experience with other clients in a similar position, we do have some suggestions to help you on this journey: First, grief and healing can be an ongoing process without a defined ending. As frightening as that may sound, accepting this idea will help you in the long run. Expecting a single strategy or event to provide you with closure may set you up for great dissatisfaction. Second, take time to examine the stresses in your life. Identify what kinds of feelings are making it hard for you to move forward with hope and positivity. Some stresses (for example, finances) may be alleviated by a settlement. But others (for example, exhaustion, mental health struggles, and strained relationships) may require other types of interventions. Finally, discuss what you believe you will need to heal with your loved ones and with knowledgeable people who have supported other people in similar positions.

We can help.

As a law firm committed to full-circle care, Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers strives to help our clients in a variety of ways. Beyond providing our legal services, our client liaisons work with you to better understand your needs and to suggest resources that may help you and your loved ones.

We can help connect you with peer support groups so that you can meet other people who have encountered similar struggles. We can explain the benefits of various types of counseling (from individual therapy to family therapy) to assist you as you work towards your “new normal.” We can suggest programs and/or reading material that may be beneficial. And, through our support of and advocacy for the disability community, we work to ensure your loved ones have access to organizations with a mission to make your life and your child’s life easier and more fulfilling.

Experiencing the sense of relief and joy many clients feel when they negotiate a birth injury lawsuit settlement is immensely satisfying for our team. But we know full well that your life continues beyond litigation and we are here to help you for the long haul.


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