Cerebral Palsy, or “CP” is a movement disorder that appears in young children, the general name given to a range of problems a person has with motor functions. Motor functions are daily movements and actions that require muscle coordination – such as walking, talking, and eating.
CP is caused by brain injury to an infant or small child which “scrambles” the messages between the brain and the rest of the body. This results in difficulties with muscle usage and coordination.
CP can range from mild coordination problems to extreme handicap, such as paralysis.
There is no known cure for CP, but milder issues can be treated by therapy.
While most cases of CP do not shorten the lifespans of individuals, CP is often paired with other disorders that can be more challenging. For example, many children diagnosed with CP also have intellectual disabilities, learning and behavior problems, issues with sleeping and bladder control, deafness, and blindness.
Symptoms vary based on the severity of the CP and the location of the brain injury. Typically, symptoms include difficulties with muscle movement and coordination such as trouble breathing, poor coordination, weak muscles, seizures, and tremors.
Other symptoms can include issues with hearing, seeing, swallowing, and speaking. In babies, the symptoms manifest in slow development. Babies with CP will not roll over, sit, crawl, or walk at the same age as other children. Sometimes problems with thinking and reasoning can even be sign of CP.
Determining the exact cause of CP can take years. CP is caused by issues in the brain, either by abnormal development or damage to the brain at a young age. CP is the result of problems that occurred during pregnancy, during childbirth, or shortly after childbirth. Some factors increase the likelihood of developing the disease. These factors include premature birth, being a twin, infection during pregnancy, exposure to mercury, or a difficult delivery involving head trauma.
Sometimes, CP can be determined by a test that shows abnormal neurological findings within 12-24 hours after birth. Abnormal test results are usually found in conjunction with other symptoms such as lethargy, stupor, and seizures. Discovering the condition at a young age allows doctors to come up with the best treatment plan, plus it makes it easier to discover the exact cause of the CP.
CP can also be determined by CT Scans, MRI, or ultrasounds after birth to identify any areas of the brain that might be damaged and impair motor function.
Unfortunately, CP can be caused by a doctor’s error or mistake. As many as 10,000 children are diagnosed with varying degrees of CP each year, and several thousands of cases result from preventable medical malpractice.
In figuring out whether medical malpractice caused the child’s CP, it is crucial to understand when the doctor began treating the mother. Typically, CP results from misreading test results of a pre-existing medical condition or when a baby lacks oxygen or experiences trauma during birth.
This type of injury is not common, but it does exist. Some examples of situations where doctors might be at fault for the injury of the child are detailed below.
If the doctor missed early signs of CP during the mother’s pregnancy and labor, then the doctor might be at fault. Most women undergo a series of prenatal tests early in pregnancy, such as blood tests, ultrasounds, and amniocentesis.
These tests determine the health of their unborn child. Parents must receive prompt and accurate disclosure of the test results. If a medical professional fails to accurately read the test results, then this can be a form of malpractice. Just like wrongful death lawsuits, a doctor can be sued for wrongful birth.
The absence of fetal heart rate accelerations during labor is a sign that the baby is not getting enough oxygen. Accelerations are short-term increases in the baby’s heartbeat. These are healthy and normal and tell the doctor that the baby is getting enough oxygen.
If the doctor doesn’t find heartbeat accelerations, then there are some methods of inducing the accelerations. Doctor’s can induce the accelerations with certain noises, movements, and fluids. This ensures a healthier baby. If the doctor forgot to check for heart rate accelerations, or found them absent and did not try and induce them, then the doctor might be at fault for the child’s CP.
Another test the doctors are required to perform during childbirth is the fetal admission test. This test screens for fetal distress in labor by monitoring the heart rate, movement, and breathing of the baby. Doctors are trained to correctly interpret these test results and make changes based on the level of stress of the baby. A mistake in test interpretation could lead to a doctor’s culpability.
Keeping track of the fetal heart rate during pregnancy and labor is also key. Doctors will use a fetal heart rate monitor to determine the fetal heart rate and make sure the baby is not in distress. The average fetal heart rate is between 110 and 160 beats per minute. It can vary by 5 to 25 beats per minute.
The fetal heart rate may change as the baby responds to conditions in the uterus. The doctor has been taught how to monitor the baby’s heartbeat and what to do if the baby becomes distressed. Fetal monitoring strips record the heart rate and are often used as evidence of malpractice in trial. If the doctor failed to take action and the baby suffered as a result, the doctor may be at fault.
APGAR assessments are performed on newborns a few minutes after they are delivered. This standard assessment measures the baby’s color, heart rate, reflexes, muscle tone and respiratory effort. The results help the physician determine if any future medical treatment will be required. Scores range from 0-10, and the lower the score the healthier the baby. A misstep in this assessment, or inaccurate reporting of the results, could be a potential cause for malpractice.
Rarely, abnormal cord gases can be the cause of CP. Cord gases are measured at birth and test the oxygen, carbon dioxide, and PH levels of the newborn. Abnormal cord gas levels could be an indication of a larger health issue.
Other issues during pregnancy and childbirth can result in a CP diagnosis by the fault of a doctor or other medical professional. Improper medications given during a woman during pregnancy, undetected medical conditions of the mother, and trauma to the newborn infant can all be crucial factors to the baby’s health.
Because the healthcare profession is so specialized, the law has set up certain standards of care that healthcare professionals are required to meet. These standards govern hospital protocol and doctor’s behavior. A failure to meet these standards, and proof of that failure, can form the basis for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
CP is a complex condition and it can be extremely difficult to determine the exact cause of the child’s disease. Determining the exact cause of the CP is the first step in establishing whether or not a doctor or healthcare professional breached a standard of care. Luckily, experienced malpractice lawyers know exactly where to look to find answers to these questions. This process is known as discovery.
If your child has been diagnosed with CP and you suspect that it was a result of improper medical care, then it is imperative that you contact a medical malpractice lawyer. Experienced lawyers will walk you through the process and discuss the potential of your case.
CP is a lifelong condition, and the medical care required to give your child the best quality of life can get costly. The average family spends $1 million for a lifetime of care. A successful medical malpractice lawsuit can aid the financial burden of a family caring for someone with CP. The costs covered by a medical malpractice lawsuit include medication, therapy, special education, home accommodations, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Compensation in a medical malpractice lawsuit depends on a number of factors. First of all, the exact cause of the CP must be determined as a doctor’s mistake.
Other factors include how long your child had been suffering from CP, how severe the CP is, and how badly the doctor messed up. Some states allow other factors to be considered such as non-economic damages (physical and emotional pain, stress, anxiety, quality of life, etc.).
Statistically, successful CP medical malpractice cases received compensation from anywhere between $200,000 and $60 million. This varies by state, as some states have caps on the non-economic and economic damages that an individual can received.
In Maryland, the law states that there is a $725,000 cap on medical malpractice non-economic damages. However, in 2009 a law was passed that states that non-economic damages caps will increase each year by $15,000. There are no economic damages caps in Maryland.
For example, in 2012, a Glen Burnie couple sued Johns Hopkins for their son’s CP. They alleged that their baby’s prolonged vaginal birth lead to oxygen deprivation. The jury awarded $18 million for future medical expenditures, $2 million for future lost wages, and $1 million for non-economic pain and suffering.
Generally, an experienced attorney will sit down and discuss your case with you. They will ask for all the information and documentation you have regarding your pregnancy, your child’s birth, and your relationships with your doctors.
If the attorney thinks you have a good case, or they are easily able to identify the doctor’s error, then they will move forward with suing the doctor or the hospital. If they need more information, they may proceed into the discovery process.
This will entail collecting additional documents and talking to the doctor’s or healthcare professionals involved. After a complaint is filed, the opposing party with have the chance to respond.
Most cases will settle outside of court, meaning that the two parties will come to a fair agreement. If that does not happen, then your case will go to trial, where your lawyer will present all your evidence to the judge and the jury. The jury will then decide the amount of compensation you are awarded.
If you believe your child has been the victim of a medical mistake, speak with our malpractice lawyers today by calling 410.288.2900. The consultation is free and there is no fee unless we win.