At Queller, Fisher, Washor, Fuchs & Kool And The Law Office Of William A. Gallina, LLP, our New York cerebral palsy lawyers realize how difficult life can be for parents and their children after a cerebral palsy diagnosis. The medical bills that are associated with a child suffering from cerebral palsy can be costly. Cerebral palsy may also prevent the child from being able to perform certain jobs, negatively affecting their long-term monetary prospects. Parents whose children were born with cerebral palsy may be able to file a lawsuit against the doctor who delivered the child to recoup a number of damages, including medical bills, pain and suffering and loss of future earning potential.
We understand that nothing can make up for an infant who unnecessarily suffers cerebral palsy. We are, however, committed to helping injured infants and their families get their lives back on track. Our cerebral palsy attorneys always pursue maximum compensation to try and ease the affected family's unnecessary financial burden.
Cerebral Palsy Is A Debilitating Birth Injury That Can Be Caused Organically Or By Medical Malpractice
It is a tragic fact that in the 21st Century, despite significant advances of medicine and science, many children are still born with disabling injuries like cerebral palsy. While many of these injuries may be unavoidable, some occur due to the negligence of medical workers, including doctors, nurses and midwives. The medical staff is charged with caring for the mother and her baby. When the staff fails in these duties before, during or shortly after the birthing of the child, they run the risk of causing a birth injury like cerebral palsy.
What Is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy describes a group of disorders that affect the control of bodily movements. Cerebral palsy is the result of damage to the parts of the brain that control the body's muscles. Cerebral palsy is one of the most common causes of chronic childhood disability. The United Cerebral Palsy Association estimates that more than 764,000 Americans have cerebral palsy. Approximately 10,000 infants and 1,500 preschoolers in the U.S. are diagnosed with cerebral palsy each year. It has been estimated that 90% of these cases are caused before or during delivery.
What Are The Signs Of Cerebral Palsy?
The signs of cerebral palsy typically develop when a child reaches age 2 or 3. The most common signs include:
- A lack of muscle coordination during voluntary movements (called ataxia)
- Stiff muscles or muscles that are tight with exaggerated reflexes (referred to as spasticity)
- Tremors or involuntary movements
- Excessive drooling or swallowing difficulties
- Dragging 1 foot or leg while walking
- Favoring 1 side of the body
- Walking on the toes
- Trouble with fine motor skills such as grasping small objects
- And muscle tone that is too tight or too "floppy."
While the brain damage itself does not continue to worsen over time, the symptoms may evolve.
What Are The 4 Types Of Cerebral Palsy?
Spastic Cerebral Palsy: The most common diagnosis, it is characterized by spastic muscles that are rigid and jerky. Types include spastic diplegia (tight leg and hip muscles, which make it difficult to walk and result in a kind of movement characterized as crossed legs at the knees known as a “scissor gait”); spastic hemiplegia (stiffness on 1 side of the body, which can affect development of limbs); and spastic quadriplegia (the severest spastic diagnosis, affecting all limbs and sometimes characterized by seizures and mental retardation).
Athetoid Or Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy: The second most commonly diagnosed form of cerebral palsy, it is characterized by muscle problems throughout the body. While normal in intelligence, the child can have trouble sitting, walking, speaking and/or controlling facial muscles.
Ataxic Cerebral Palsy: The rarest diagnosed form of cerebral palsy, it affects fine motor skills.
Mixed Cerebral Palsy: Doctors commonly will diagnose a child as having mixed cerebral palsy, or some combination of the above forms or symptoms.
What Causes Cerebral Palsy?
While much remains unknown about the causes of cerebral palsy, it is believed that the following can all be attributing factors:
- Babies who are born breech, prematurely or at a very low birth weight
- Infants born severely jaundiced or whose jaundice is untreated
- Twins are at a higher risk
- The mother has an infection during pregnancy
- German measles (also known as rubella)
- The mother has chicken pox
- The mother has Cytomegalovirus
- Toxoplasmosis is present in the mother
- The mother has contracted syphilis
- Maternal exposure to certain toxins
When Is Cerebral Palsy The Result Of Medical Malpractice?
While cerebral palsy typically results from the above listed organic causes, it can also be caused by the negligence of a medical practitioner. Typical cases of medical malpractice causing cerebral palsy involve the medical provider's failure to recognize and timely correct the risks to the baby. For instance, while in utero, the infant is entirely dependent on the mother for its oxygen supply, which is delivered via blood through the placenta. Any impairment in this delivery of blood and oxygen can cause distress and injury to the unborn baby. The baby's distress may be shown by abnormalities in the fetal monitoring strips – a graphic display of the baby's heart rhythm and rate, as well as the mother's contractions, if any. Abnormalities in the heart rate or rhythm (particularly when compared to the timing of contractions) may be signs of distress. For example, during labor, changes in the baby's heart rate called accelerations and decelerations are expected and normal, particularly when compared to the occurrence of contractions with a return baseline. An absence of these changes, as well as changes that are too large, can be signs of distress. An irregular return to the baseline can also be a sign of fetal distress. These signs need to be recognized, and in some cases, the baby may need to be delivered. In other cases, for a variety of reasons, the mother could have difficulty in delivering the baby with a prolonged labor. If uncorrected, there are times when the baby's oxygen supply can be impaired; in such situations, a delay in performing certain maneuvers to facilitate delivery or a delay in performing a Caesarian section to deliver the baby can cause brain damage.
When a doctor or other medical provider fails to respond to any of the aforementioned situations in a timely manner, they may have acted negligently and could be liable for any resulting injury. Parents of children who have suffered a brain injury such as cerebral palsy may have grounds to file a lawsuit against the negligent medical provider.
For instance, our New York cerebral palsy lawyers resolved a case involving a brain-damaged child for $5.8 million just prior to opening statements at trial.* In this case, the attending OB/GYN damaged the baby's brain by using excessive force during a forceps delivery. In this case, the doctor's excessive use of force was considered negligence that subsequently caused the infant's injury.
In still another class of malpractice cases, medical providers may fail to take appropriate steps to prolong a pregnancy or to optimize a preterm birth. In some instances, women with what is called an “incompetent cervix” or with other conditions may have difficulty carrying a pregnancy to term. Placing a stitch, called a cerclage, may prolong the pregnancy and reduce the risk of preterm delivery. When preterm labor begins, medical providers may be able to prolong the pregnancy with the use of certain medications. They may also be able to administer medications to help speed the baby's lung development to lessen the risk of illness associated with preterm birth. Given the morbidity associated with preterm delivery, and the increased risk of cerebral palsy, failures to properly or timely intervene in these ways could be avoidable causes of injury to the baby.
When a doctor or other medical practitioner fails to take the appropriate steps to prolong a pregnancy, they may be liable for any permanent injury that occurs.
For instance, our firm recently brought to trial a case in which a child was prematurely born with cerebral palsy at 30 weeks gestation. Due to the failure of the OB/GYN to properly treat the mother's incompetent cervix, she went into early labor. Consequently, the child was born severely disabled. Our cerebral palsy lawyers obtained a multi-million dollar settlement for our clients that ensured the child's needs will always be satisfied.*