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How Can Medical Malpractice Lead to Cerebral Palsy?

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It’s the joy of every parent when their baby reaches certain developmental benchmarks. However, some parents may find that the developmental calendar in their child to be delayed. While there are many other factors that could occasion such delay, this could be a sign that your child is suffering from cerebral palsy.

According to statistics quoted in the US, as many as 10,000 children are diagnosed with varying degrees of cerebral palsy (CP) each year. It’s the most common type of childhood disability affecting an approximated 500,000 people under the age of 18 years.

Some babies are born with cerebral palsy with no fault of medical personnel. Nonetheless, about 10% of those born with CP develop it as a result of medical malpractices. Its impact on the parents and baby is unfortunately lifelong.

What is cerebral palsy?

The CDC defines CP as “A group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture.” It is caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain which as a result affects the person’s muscle control ability. Cerebral refers to the brain whereas palsy refers to muscle weaknesses or problems.

Types of cerebral palsy

CP is classified according to the types of movement disorders. Depending on where your child’s brain was affected, the following movement disorders can be observed:

  • Spasticity - stiffening of the muscles
  • Dyskinesia - being unable to have any control of movement
  • Ataxia - poor coordination and balance

The following are the types of CP:

Spastic cerebral palsy

This is the most prevalent type of CP found in 80% of people with the disorder. People afflicted with spastic CP have stiff muscles due to increased muscle tone. Doctors describe it in the following manner:

  • Spastic diplegia/diparesis  - here, the leg muscles are the most affected with the arm muscles being slightly or not affected at all. People with this condition have difficulty walking.
  • Spastic hemiplegia/hemiparesis - in this case, one side of the body is affected with the arms bearing much of the effects.
  • Spastic quadriplegia/quadriparesis - as the most severe form of spastic CP, it affects all the four limbs of the body, the torso, and the face. People with this condition cannot walk and have additional developmental issues.

Athetoid cerebral palsy

This type of CP is also known as dyskinetic, choreoathetoid, or dystonic CP. One of the major characteristics of this kind of CP is muscle tone that can change. The muscle tone can change from too tight to too loose not only on a daily basis but even in a single day.

Ataxic cerebral palsy

The people with ataxic CP have problems with balance and coordination especially with movements that need a lot of control, quick reflexes, and even walking.

Signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy

CP is often diagnosed in the early years of life. However, a few cases may be diagnosed later. The clinical signs of CP can be broken down into eight categories. They are:

  • Muscle tone
  • Coordination and control of movement
  • Reflexes
  • Posture
  • Balance
  • Gross motor function
  • Fine motor function
  • Oral motor function

The main signs of a child with CP are delay in reaching motor or movement milestones according to the CDC. They offer the following breakdown of the signs and symptoms of CP:

In babies younger than six months

  • Head lag when the baby is picked up from lying on his/her back
  • The baby feels stiff or floppy
  • Constant extension of the neck or back as if to push away from you when cradled
  • Stiff, crossed, or scissored legs when picked up

In baby older than six months but not 10 months old

  • Doesn't roll over in either direction
  • Cannot bring the hands together or to the mouth
  • Reaches out with one hand while keeping the other fisted

In babies 10 months and older

  • The baby craws in a lopsided way dragging one side of the body
  • Does not crawl on all fours

Medical malpractice and cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy can be caused by hypoxia (lack of enough oxygen to the brain), asphyxia (lack of enough oxygen to the body), premature delivery, or complications in delivery during birth. These causes themselves can be as a result of medical malpractice.

However, it’s the duty of your doctor and other caregivers to act with the greatest care when attending to you and your baby.  Most of the time, they do this which means that not all babies born with cerebral palsy are as a result of medical malpractice. But in the thousands of cases reported, medical malpractice is often the cause.

Negligence that leads to the above causes results in a medical malpractice. Often, this happens during childbirth or shortly after childbirth. Here’s what to look out for to see whether CP has been caused by medical malpractice:

  • An administrative error failing to notify you or your doctor of a preexisting condition
  • Failure to detect fetal stress during delivery or monitor the fetal heart rate appropriately
  • Failure to treat or improper handling of infections in the mother during pregnancy
  • Failure to identify a prolapsed umbilical cord
  • Failure to perform or delay of a cesarean section when the baby is too large for normal vaginal delivery or due to other circumstances that necessitate a cesarean section
  • Misuse of medical equipment like vacuums or forceps during delivery
  • Errors involving medication like wrong prescriptions
  • Emergency room malpractices like wrong blood transfusion

What to do if you think you have a medical malpractice case

The total lifetime care costs of a child with cerebral palsy are in excess of one million dollars. For children with cerebral palsy, medical costs are ten times higher than normal and even 25 times higher if the child has an intellectual disability.

Apart from the economic factors of CP, determining that you have a CP medical malpractice case is not a simple task. A seasoned professional who knows what to look for and has dealt with similar cases is the ideal person to contact. 

Harry S. Cohen and Associates is here for you and your family in uncovering whether or not your child's condition was preventable. Our dedication to our clients, combined with our knowledge of the law, enables us to determine the correct course of action for your family.