Cerebral Palsy Caused By Birth Injury
Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition that occurs in 2-4 out of every 1,000 births. It is the most common motor disability in childhood, and about 1 in 323 children are affected by cerebral palsy.
There are a number of causes, one being birth injury. If a fetus or newborn is deprived of oxygen during a difficult delivery, brain development can be inhibited, leading to the development of cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy is defined as a disorder of posture, muscle tone, or movement, and it typically appears during infancy or preschool years. The effects of the disorder vary widely, but cerebral palsy typically causes impaired movement, floppiness or rigidity of the limbs, involuntary movements, abnormal posture, or a combination of these symptoms.
Cerebral palsy has several causes, including:
- Infant infections causing inflammation in or around the brain
- Fetal stroke, which disrupts blood supply to the brain
- Maternal infections that affect the development of the fetus
- Genetic mutations in genes controlling brain development
- Traumatic head injury in infancy
Cerebral palsy can occur without medical malpractice or doctor negligence; often doctors and nurses perform a high level of prenatal and perinatal care, but unfortunate circumstances still arise. Certain unavoidable factors can contribute to its development, including premature birth, low birth weight, breech births, and multiple babies.
For medical malpractice to have occurred, a doctor, nurse, technician, or hospital worker’s treatment must have departed from an acceptable standard of care and resulted in harm to the patient. A difficult delivery or the development of cerebral palsy does not necessarily indicate malpractice, unless the medical professional acted outside industry-standard precautions and expectations.
In certain cases, medical malpractice can be linked to cerebral palsy. The failure to detect or appropriately treat certain events can lead to the disorder, including:
- failure to detect or treat infections during pregnancy
- failure to monitor fetal heart rate before and during labor and delivery
- failure to detect a prolapsed umbilical cord
- failure to plan a C-section when the baby is too large to pass through the vaginal canal
- delay or failure to perform a C-section when medically necessary
- negligence when using forceps or a vacuum during delivery
The health of both the mother and infant are key factors in possible development of cerebral palsy. If the mother suffers from German measles, chicken pox, cytemegalovirus, toxoplasmosis, syhpilis, or exposure to toxins during pregnancy, the chances her child will be born with cerebral palsy increase significantly. And if the infant is exposed to bacterial meningitis, viral encephalitis, or severe or untreated jaundice, the chances of developing the disorder are much higher.
Maternal infections are unfortunate and come about naturally, but it is the job of medical professionals to identify these infections and inform the mother of the risks during pregnancy. After delivery, infants are closely monitored by doctors and nurses and, should infection come about, they should be treated appropriately by medical staff. If a perinatal infection leads to the development of cerebral palsy—and a competent doctor in the same field would have treated an infection differently—malpractice might have occurred.
Most children affected by cerebral palsy are born with the disorder, although the symptoms may not become apparent until a few years later. Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term for a number of different neurological disorders that affect motor abilities. As such, the symptoms and manifestations of cerebral palsy vary widely, but the three most common types are spastic, athetoid, and ataxic.
Spastic cerebral palsy accounts for about 80 percent of all cases. Spastic cerebral palsy cases see stiffness and difficulty moving, and patients have trouble moving from one position to another or holding onto and letting go of things.
Athetoid cerebral palsy is more rare, only affecting about 10 percent of cases. Athetoid cerebral palsy patients experience involuntary movements, trouble swallowing, trouble maintaining posture, and slurred speech.
Ataxic cerebral palsy, affecting the remaining 10 percent of cases, is characterized by problems with depth perception, lack of balance, tremors, and trouble with muscle movements.
If you believe a loved one developed cerebral palsy as a result of birth injury, you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible. Under New Jersey law, medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare professional or institution breaches the standard of care, which causes harm to the patient and constitutes medical negligence. Standard of care refers to the accepted practices and procedures followed by all medical professionals in the geographic area. Based on the patient’s age and overall health, standard of care will vary, but there are generally accepted practices that constitute standard of care for mothers and newborns.
Proving a breach of standard of care often requires extensive review of medical records and a third-party medical professional’s examination of the case.
If the doctor acted negligently in your case and there are grounds for a malpractice suit, you could be entitled to three types of damages:
- Compensatory damages: compensation for medical bills that resulted from the negligent actions. The court must receive copies of medical bills as proof of expenses in order to receive compensatory damages.
- Non-economic damages: apply to non-tangible costs like pain and suffering.
- Punitive damages: in cases of extreme recklessness or negligence, such as malicious or fraudulent behavior, you can win punitive damages by showing the medical professional’s conduct was extraordinarily out of line.
Punitive damages are capped at five times the compensatory damages or $350,000—whichever is greater—in New Jersey.
Medical costs for children with cerebral palsy are approximately 10 times higher than for children without cerebral palsy or intellectual disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2003, the lifetime cost to care for someone with cerebral palsy was nearly $1 million—and that number has since risen due to inflation.
If you believe your child or a loved one developed cerebral palsy as a result of a birth injury, contact Maggiano Law for a free consultation. We can examine your unique situation and explain your options—and no fees are required until we win your case. Call 1-201-585-9111 or click here to get in touch today.