Doctor and Hospital Errors Can Lead to Cerebral Palsy

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Errors and difficulties that occur during birth can lead to the movement-impairing disorders commonly classified under the name of Cerebral Palsy. According to United Cerebral Palsy, a non-profit advocacy group for those suffering from all types of palsy, an estimated 764,000 children and adults have some form of the disorder. Approximately 8,000 newborns and infants are diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy every year.

The most common type of palsy, Spastic Cerebral Palsy, stiffens and permanently contracts muscles and reduces motor function. In addition to the pain this condition causes, there can be a host of harmful side effects, such as:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Speech impediment
  • Abnormal sensation and perception
  • Vision or hearing problems
  • Seizure disorders
  • Difficulty with bladder and bowel control
  • Breathing problems
  • Learning disabilities

Causes of Cerebral Palsy

There are a variety of risk factors for Cerebral Palsy, including premature birth, low birth weight and high birth weight. Risk factors alone do not cause Cerebral Palsy, however, and their presence does not mean your baby will get the disorder.

On the other hand, known primary causes of the disorder include head trauma that occurs during the delivery process and a lack of oxygen to the baby. The head injury can occur pre-birth but in an estimated 20 percent of cases, Cerebral Palsy is caused during delivery.

Head trauma can occur when the baby is too large or in an improper position. It can occur in connection with an obstetrician who fails to do a caesarean section on time. In some cases, the treating doctor or obstetrician uses excessive pressure on the baby's head or neck during delivery. Head trauma can also occur through the use of vacuums or other mechanical devices used during delivery. Issues that contribute to a lack of oxygen in the baby's brain may also contribute to Cerebral Palsy, such as when the umbilical cord wraps around the baby's neck causing suffocation.

Excessive force when trying to guide the shoulder of the baby can lead to Erb's Palsy also known as brachial plexus injury. A baby with Erb's Palsy will have its movement impaired, usually through paralysis in the arm and shoulder affected during delivery but typically does not have the brain injury and spasticity that is associated with Cerebral Palsy.

Early Signs of Cerebral Palsy

Generally, a parent may be aware of their new baby having suffered brain injury because these children often require intensive medical care during the newborn period. Newborn babies may require assistance breathing and feeding. Other signs of Cerebral Palsy may occur. In its more mild forms, Cerebral Palsy may appear as a delay in development. In its more severe forms, the child with cerebral palsy will have difficulty eating, swallowing, holding her head erect and maintaining proper posture.. To diagnose Cerebral Palsy, a doctor will check reflexes and motor skills, in addition to looking at the medical histories of the baby and mother. The physicians will look at birth records to see if there are indications that the baby had been deprived of oxygen during the birthing process. Fetal heart monitor records may be reviewed for evidence that lack of oxygen is the cause of the cerebral palsy.

If Cerebral Palsy is suspected, a doctor can order tests to find out the possible causes of the disorder. A computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test, and an ultrasonography can all assist in both creating an anatomically accurate picture of the brain, and also in determining when the baby was deprived of oxygen and whether that lack of oxygen is a cause of the cerebral palsy.

Holding Those Responsible Accountable

Not all infants suffering from Cerebral Palsy are victims of medical malpractice. However, because physician conduct does account for a significant portion of those affected, those with an infant who has cerebral palsy or other serious neurologic injury should check to see whether it can be attributed to medical malpractice.

If the cause of Cerebral Palsy stems from medical malpractice or negligence, those affected may have the right to obtain compensation to help their child overcome the lifelong difficulties associated with the disorder. The hospital, the treating doctor or obstetrician and possibly other staff can all be held accountable. Hospital responsibility can arise both because of its own negligence and under the legal theory of respondeat superior (Latin for "let the master answer"), which provides that a hospital is responsible for the negligent behavior of its employees, so long as the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment. Thus, often a medical malpractice lawsuit for Cerebral Palsy will include both the doctor and the hospital as defendants. Lawsuits for birth injuries such as cerebral palsy serve not only to hold the doctor or hospital accountable for their actions, but it may serve to improve the quality of care for other babies. Hopefully, as care improves there will be fewer medical errors in the future, which is a desirable outcome for everyone affected by medical malpractice that causes cerebral palsy or other birth injuries.

Take Action

Cerebral Palsy does not have a cure, but it can be managed. Proper medical treatment, along with schooling and personal care assistance, can give those with the disorder a chance to lead happy, productive lives. For financial help in reducing the effects of the disorder on a child's life, contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer to discuss potential legal options.