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Legal Issues/Remedies Associated with Cerebral Palsy

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Cerebral palsy is a group of chronic disorders affecting a child's ability to coordinate body movements. Children with cerebral palsy may experience difficulty with fine and gross motor skills, uncontrolled movements, disturbance in gait or mobility, difficulty swallowing and problems with communication. Complications such as epilepsy, scoliosis, impaired hearing and vision, loss of bladder control and mental retardation are not uncommon. With proper therapy, medication, special equipment and/or surgical procedures many children experience significant improvements in quality of life.

Sadly, some cases of cerebral palsy are the result of medical negligence or malpractice. However, because the causes are not fully understood, it can be difficult to prove medical negligence was the cause of your child's cerebral palsy. An experienced lawyer can help you determine if your child's case is grounds for a lawsuit seeking compensation to cover your medical bills and other expenses.

Cerebral Palsy Lawsuits

Palsy birth defect lawsuits involve a claim of medical negligence or malpractice; in other words, the doctor and/or hospital made a mistake that led to the development of cerebral palsy. There are four essential elements to a medical malpractice case:

  • Duty of care. Doctors and hospitals have a duty to provide the accepted standard of care to their patients.
  • Breach of duty of care. When a health care provider(s) deviates from the accepted standard of care, there may be a breach of duty of care. To establish a breach of duty of care, medical experts are often called to testify as to what a reasonably prudent health care professional would have done in a similar situation.
  • Damages. Even if a health care provider breaches the duty of care, the patient has to suffer damages in order to file a medical malpractice claim. In cerebral palsy cases damages may include medical expenses; pain and suffering; rehabilitative, therapeutic, nursing and similar care; assistive devices; lost income and other expenses.
  • Causation. The breach of care has to be the cause of the damages. This is usually the most difficult element to prove in a medical malpractice claim, and certainly in cerebral palsy lawsuits. It is believed that the causes of some cerebral palsy cases are not preventable (e.g., genetic disorders). In addition, the causes are usually multifactorial,* and in some cases they are simply not known. However, some cerebral palsy cases are a result of medical malpractice. A cerebral palsy lawyer can help research the cause of your child's case and show you examples of settlements in cases similar to yours.


Medical malpractice laws and statutes of limitations can vary by state. If your child has cerebral palsy, injury attorneys who have experience in medical malpractice can help you evaluate your specific situation and determine your chances of obtaining compensation for your expenses and your child's pain and suffering. Contact a birth injury attorney to learn more.

What is Asphyxia?

Asphyxia means there is a lack of oxygen in the brain because of an interruption in breathing or poor oxygen supply. Asphyxia is common in newborns due to the stress of labor and delivery, but their blood is designed to compensate for low levels of oxygen for a short period of time. However, if the asphyxia persists the baby can develop hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, a type of brain damage that destroys tissue in the cerebral motor cortex and other areas of the brain. This type of brain damage can lead to cerebral palsy.

Medical Mistakes and Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is the result of brain damage to the area that controls movement, balance and posture. An estimated 5 to 10 percent of babies with congenital cerebral palsy (i.e., babies born with the condition) develop the condition due to birth complications, such as trauma or asphyxia (loss of oxygen).** Cerebral palsy can also occur as a result of certain maternal and postnatal conditions, and/or due to a brain infection and/or a traumatic brain injury suffered in early childhood.

Medical mistakes by obstetricians, pediatricians, hospital staff or other medical professionals in any of the circumstances mentioned above can lead to the development of cerebral palsy. This may include:

  • Leaving a child in the birth canal too long
  • Failure to recognize and treat signs of fetal distress
  • Failure to respond to changes in the mother's condition (e.g., toxemia, changes in blood pressure)
  • Failure to detect a problem with the umbilical cord (e.g., the cord wrapped around the baby's neck).
  • Improper use of vacuum or forceps
  • Failure to plan a cesarean section in foreseeable circumstances (e.g., the baby was too large for a vaginal delivery) or to perform an emergency cesarean section in the presence of fetal distress
  • Failure to detect and treat jaundice and seizures after delivery
  • Failure to detect and treat brain infections (i.e., meningitis, encephalitis)

The following are some indicators that a baby suffered asphyxia or other trauma to the brain during delivery, possibly from a medical mistake:

  • An emergency cesarean section was performed
  • Forceps or vacuum extraction was used in the delivery
  • Oxygen or CPR was needed after the birth
  • Specialists were called in to care for the newborn baby
  • The baby suffered seizures during the first few days of life
  • The baby spent time in an NICU (neonatal intensive care unit)
  • The baby needed an MRI, brain scan or other special testing

If your child suffers from cerebral palsy, it may be due to the medical team's failure to respond in a reasonable manner. Contact a lawyer specializing in injury at birth to learn more about settlements and compensation in cerebral palsy cases.

* National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
** National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke