Cerebral palsy is a permanent neurological condition that can cause a range of symptoms and complications, from mild to severe and debilitating. A child born with this condition is facing a lifelong disability, and even mild disabilities can lead to extensive medical bills, ongoing treatments, and limitations.
Most often occurring in childbirth, cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage. A medical mistake made during fetal development, during delivery, or shortly after a baby is born can lead to the damage that causes this condition. If you have a child with cerebral palsy, talk to a medical malpractice lawyer to find out if it was the result of negligence and if you have a chance of receiving compensation to help your child throughout his or her life.
What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a neurological condition. This means that it is caused by damage in the brain and that it impacts the brain and nerves. It mostly affects the musculoskeletal system, muscle movement and muscle control, but it can also cause a wide range of complications from hearing difficulties to learning disabilities to behavioral disorders, and much more. Depending on the extent of the brain damage, the condition may cause mild symptoms and few complications, moderate symptoms, or it may be severe and leave a child unable to be independent at all.
This condition is permanent and irreversible, which means a child who has it will need some degree of lifelong care, whether that means ongoing pain medications and physical therapy or complete in-home care for a child who cannot live independently. The most common form of cerebral palsy is spastic and is characterized by abnormal movements, stiff muscles, difficulty walking, and poor muscle control. Less common is dyskinetic cerebral palsy, which causes twisting, writhing movements, poor posture, and irregular movements. The ataxic type of the condition causes tremors and poor coordination.
Cerebral palsy can be mixed, causing symptoms characteristic of all types. It can also affect different parts of the body, with some children having all limbs affected and others experiencing symptoms in just one side or one limb. Treatments for cerebral palsy help to manage symptoms but do not cure the condition. These include surgery, medication, educational interventions, physical therapy, other types of therapy, and assistive devices.
What Causes Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage, but there are many ways in which a baby can develop brain damage. A common underlying cause of the brain damage that leads to the condition is asphyxiation. For example, a baby may become tangled in the umbilical cord during deliver, cutting off oxygen to the brain. Other potential causes of cerebral palsy include:
- Infections in the mother.
- Placental complications.
- A ruptured uterus.
- Rh factor diseases.
- Prolonged labor.
- Perinatal stroke.
- Epidural hematoma.
- Forceps and vacuum extractor injuries.
- Infertility drugs.
Medical Errors and Cerebral Palsy
In some cases a baby may be born with cerebral palsy without any warning. There may be nothing a doctor or other medical professional could have done to prevent the brain damage that led to the condition. However, in many cases the damage caused to the baby was preventable and the result of a medical error.
There are many ways in which a mistake can be made that leads to brain damage and cerebral palsy. Failing to diagnose and treat the mother or developing fetus for illnesses or complications is a common mistake. For instance if the mother has an infection that affects the baby but her doctor does not screen for it, it may go untreated and cause harm. Leading up to and during delivery, a doctor may neglect to monitor the mother and baby adequately. This can result in complications that should have been prevented and that may cause brain damage and cerebral palsy.
A doctor or other professional may also make a mistake during or shortly after deliver that causes brain damage. A difficult labor that should have called for a cesarean section, for example, can cause the baby to be cut off from oxygen for a period of time, resulting in brain damage. Inappropriate use of forceps can damage the brain. When a child is born prematurely, failure to monitor oxygen intake or use of faulty equipment can also lead to damage.
Cerebral Palsy and Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice may be proven in cases of cerebral palsy if it can be shown that the doctor, midwife, or nurse involved in the birth did something or failed to do something that led to the injury and that this failure or action was negligent. The most typical way to prove negligence in a medical malpractice case is to use expert testimony that demonstrates a similar professional in that particular situation would have made different choices, leading to a healthy baby. In cases of cerebral palsy it is often possible to prove this.
Living with Cerebral Palsy
The consequences of being born with cerebral palsy can be very serious. Some children will have only mild disabilities, while others will struggle with independence for the rest of their lives. Some are completely wheelchair bound, while others can walk independently or with assistive devices. Most have other complications and associated conditions that need to be treated or managed indefinitely and into adulthood.
With cerebral palsy there are big expenses, including doctor visits, specialists, surgeries, therapies, educational interventions and tools, mobility devices, in-home healthcare workers, medications, and more. Additionally there is pain and suffering, both physical and emotional. A child born with this condition may never be able to work. The parents may need to stop working for a period of time to care for a child and lose income as a result.
Examples of Malpractice Cases
There are many examples of medical malpractice cases related to cerebral palsy because so many instances of this condition are preventable and caused by medical errors. The settlements can be quite high in these cases. In one such case the family of a young girl with cerebral palsy and other health issues was awarded over $20 million. The family and their legal team successfully made the case that medical negligence was involved when complications during delivery led to excessive bleeding. The doctor responsible failed to get a transfusion for the baby for several hours, resulting in brain damage.
In another big case the family settled with a hospital in suburban Chicago for $15 million for their child. The baby girl has cerebral palsy after being delivered with several warning signs that she was in distress. The family claimed that the medical team failed to act in response to that destress in a timely fashion. They also claimed that the mother was administered too much of the labor-inducing drug that caused contractions and cut off blood from the baby.
These and other cases from all over the country illustrate how easily a medical error can turn into a lifelong, debilitating condition for a newborn. The family and the individual must live with the consequences of those errors for decades to come. If you have a child that was born with cerebral palsy, you may be able to prove medical negligence in a malpractice case. Work with an experienced malpractice and cerebral palsy lawyer to find out if you have a strong case and to try to get the compensation your child will need.