Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder resulting from brain damage or a malformation suffered during pregnancy, delivery, or shortly after that. The disorder impacts each person differently. Symptoms can range from a slight limp to a total loss of muscle use. Those with cerebral palsy often face dramatic life challenges.
A large number of diagnoses result from preventable birth injuries and medical malpractice. If your child faces the daily challenges associated with cerebral palsy, you may be entitled to legal compensation.
Cerebral palsy is used as an umbrella term for a group of disorders that affects a person’s ability to move, as well as maintain proper balance and good posture. Cerebral palsy is a result of damage to the part of the brain that controls the motor control center of a developing brain, usually during pregnancy or shortly after birth. Some common symptoms of cerebral palsy, include:
- Muscular: difficulty walking, difficulty moving, muscle rigidity, poor coordination, stiff muscles, overactive reflexes, involuntary movements, muscle weakness, muscle spasms, or paralysis
- Developmental: failure to develop, learning disability, or stunt of growth
- Speech: stuttering or speech disorder
Cerebral palsy is a permanent, lifetime condition that can worsen or improve over time. Parents of children with cerebral palsy can expect to take on numerous unique responsibilities that have the potential to last for a lifetime. Raising a child with a disability takes time, effort, empathy, and a lot of patience.
What Causes Cerebral Palsy?
As noted earlier, cerebral palsy is caused by abnormal development or injury to the brain, making it difficult for the child to control the movement of their muscles. This brain damage can happen in pregnancy, during birth, or shortly after delivery. Most cases of cerebral palsy are attributed to birth injury, which is more often than not linked to medical malpractice.
Some risk factors can heighten the risk of a child being born with cerebral palsy. Although risk factors do not necessarily cause cerebral palsy, they do play a part in increasing the odds that a child could develop cerebral palsy. Some of these risk factors include:
- premature birth
- low birth weight
- thrombophilia (issues with blood clotting)
- lack of oxygen and nutrients provided by the placenta
- incompatible blood types between mother and baby
- bacterial infection of the mother, baby, or fetus that directly attacks the baby’s central nervous system
- German measles in early pregnancy or other viral diseases that affect the mother
- loss of oxygen for a prolonged time during the birthing process
- a severe case of jaundice shortly after birth
Additionally, there are four groups that statistics show have a higher risk of developing cerebral palsy. Those groups are:
- premature babies
- babies born with a low birth weight
- twins, triplets, etc.
How Is Cerebral Palsy Diagnosed?
Cerebral palsy must be diagnosed by a medical professional. Most people with cerebral palsy are diagnosed as an infant as the signs become apparent, but others do not show signs or symptoms until they are a bit older and experience developmental delays. When a child misses and fails to hit major developmental milestones, there is generally a cause for concern for parents and doctors alike.
Cerebral palsy can be complex to diagnose, however. Doctors may suspect cerebral palsy if a baby has slow motor skills, has a tight or floppy muscle tone, or exhibits awkward posturing. When a doctor suspects cerebral palsy, a series of tests may be undergone, including a CT scan or an MRI to assist in creating an anatomically accurate picture of the brain. Suspicions of cerebral palsy may result in developmental monitoring, developmental screening, and developmental and medical evaluations.
The General Movements Assessment is a standard evaluation conducted on those who are of birth age to three months. This assessment is considered to be a strong predictor of cerebral palsy in an infant. If the infant is determined to be at risk, then intervention can begin as early as one month. Being able to determine cerebral palsy as early as possible is vital in developing a treatment plan.
Types of Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy is not just limited to one type. There are four different forms of cerebral palsy, depending on which area of the brain has been affected.
- Spastic Cerebral Palsy – this type of cerebral palsy is the most common. It causes stiffness of the muscles and difficulty in movement.
- Dyskinetic Cerebral palsy – this type of cerebral palsy causes uncontrollable movements.
- Ataxic Cerebral Palsy – this type of cerebral palsy causes a problem with balance and depth perception.
- Mixed Cerebral Palsy – this type of cerebral palsy shares commonalities with the other three recognized types of cerebral palsy
Parents need to learn everything that they possibly can about cerebral palsy. They need to know how cerebral palsy affects movement, its underlying causes, how it’s treated, and how children with the condition develop differently from non-disabled children.
Can Cerebral Palsy Cause Other Health Problems?
As if having cerebral palsy was not enough, children with cerebral palsy often have other health problems that are associated with the condition. These issues are called associated disorders or associated conditions, and almost every child with cerebral palsy will suffer from at least one. Below are commonly associated disorders that a child with cerebral palsy may face:
- difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- oral health issues, including cavities, teeth grinding, drooling, and abnormal alignment of teeth
- vision problems caused by brain damage
- cognitive and behavioral issues
- digestive problems
- skin conditions
- respiratory problems
- emotional issues
- physical and mobility issues
- sleep disorders
Could My Doctor Be Responsible for My Child’s Cerebral Palsy?
Not all infants who suffer from cerebral palsy are due to medical malpractice mistakes. However, it is important to know that doctor or medical personnel errors can lead to cerebral palsy.
If the cause of cerebral palsy is attributed to your doctor, you may have the right to compensation to help with the expenses incurred because of the disorder.
Who can be responsible? Anyone from your doctor to the hospital, to your obstetrician, and any other medical staff who had involvement could be held accountable.
Hospitals can be held liable and under the legal theory of respondeat superior, which provides that a hospital is responsible for negligence in its employees, as long as the employee is acting within the scope of their employment. Many times a medical malpractice lawsuit for cerebral palsy will list both the doctor and the hospital as defendants.
These types of lawsuits not only hold the doctor or hospital accountable for their actions, but they can also serve to improve the quality of care for other babies. As the standard of care continues to improve, we can only hope that there will be fewer medical errors in the future.
How Is Cerebral Palsy Treated?
Sadly, there is no cure for cerebral palsy, but fortunately, there are treatments and medications available to assist in the growth and reaching their greatest potential.
Treatment for cerebral palsy is mostly support-based. As soon as cerebral palsy is diagnosed, the child can undergo therapy for speech, learning, hearing, as well as social, behavioral, and emotional development.
Medication may be required to help with muscle pain and stiffness. Medicine can be taken by mouth or by way of a baclofen pump, which is inserted underneath the skin.
Surgery may be another treatment option for cerebral palsy. Some children suffer from scoliosis or dislocated hips. Surgery may not entirely correct these issues, but it certainly can help.
What is the Life Expectancy for Cerebral Palsy?
A common misconception of cerebral palsy is that it is a life-threatening condition. In most cases, this is not true. Cerebral palsy is undoubtedly limiting, but most people with the condition live well into adulthood, with the exception of those who have severe cases. The typical life expectancy for someone with cerebral palsy is anywhere from 30-70 years.
How Do I Know if My Child’s Cerebral Palsy Was Caused by Medical Negligence?
Ten percent of children who are born with cerebral palsy develop the condition as a result of medical negligence. It may not sound like an overwhelming percentage, but if you think about it, that means one in every ten children who develop cerebral palsy developed it because someone on the medical team made a mistake — a big mistake.
With proper care, many birth injuries are preventable. Doctors should be able to diagnose whether a mother is at risk for certain birth complications. For example, celphalopelvic disproportion (CPD) is when the child’s head is too large for the mother’s cervix. This situation could result in prolonged labor and complications such as brain injury.
Before delivery, the doctor should be able to assess the size of the child’s head. If the size of the head could result in complications, the doctor should abandon traditional delivery and schedule a c-section delivery instead.
A doctor who is exhibiting the proper standard of care should be able to detect and diagnose an umbilical cord prolapse, which happens when the umbilical cord comes out before the infant does.
When the infant is delivered, and there is a clear indication that the infant has suffered oxygen deprivation, the doctor may still have the chance to prevent cerebral palsy. The doctor must act as quickly as possible, however.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be able to help. This therapy works by flooding the child’s lungs with oxygen and helps reverse the effects of oxygen deprivation if given quickly enough.
At any time during the pregnancy, delivery, or shortly after that, the infant shows signs of distress, the doctor is charged with making quick decisions. These decisions are important to saving the infant and/or the mother’s life.
In any of these instances where the doctor failed to diagnose or treat these conditions, they may be liable for medical malpractice.
What to do If Your Child is Developing Slowly
If you feel that your child is developing slowly, it is important to take them to a medical professional for an evaluation. If it is determined that your child has cerebral palsy, then you may need help determining the cause.
Living with cerebral palsy is expensive. The cost of medical bills, treatments, and therapies can rise into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. A cerebral palsy lawsuit may be able to help you obtain compensation related to in-home care, lost wages, punitive damages, pain, suffering, mental anguish, and more.
The best way to find out if you have a cerebral palsy claim is to reach out to an experienced birth injury attorney for a legal consultation. The attorneys at Raynes & Lawn take on many types of birth injury cases and have had successful outcomes obtaining substantial settlements.
If we feel you have a valid claim, we will do a thorough investigation of the medical records and review the evidence with expert medical professionals to determine whether negligence was the cause of your child’s cerebral palsy.
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