What is Cerebral Palsy, and How Does it Happen?
Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that happens before, during, or shortly after birth. It’s caused by injuries to the baby’s developing brain. The damage caused by the injuries affects the child’s motor development and muscle control, coordination, muscle tone, posture, balance, and gross and fine motor skills. It can also affect the child’s speech and ability to chew food and drink.
There are many possible causes for cerebral palsy. Congenital cerebral palsy can occur while a baby is still developing in the mother’s body (intrauterine), during birth, or during the young baby’s life. If cerebral palsy happens before the baby is born, it happens either due to genetic abnormalities than affect brain growth and development, infections, or injuries that keep the nervous system from developing correctly. However, a baby can be born without cerebral palsy and develop it once it leaves the womb.
Another common cause of cerebral palsy is oxygen starvation to the infant’s brain. It can happen if its oxygen is cut off while the baby is being born or after it’s born. This could happen if the baby’s airway is blocked after its born, or if there’s damage or problems with the umbilical cord, placenta, or uterus such that the baby’s oxygen supply is cut off, causing death to cells in certain parts of the brain.
It’s also possible for a baby to develop cerebral palsy (acquired) after birth, through infection, injury, accident, or other problems that may impair blood flow to the brain. Babies most vulnerable to acquired cerebral palsy may have other illnesses or disorders or were subject to environmental factors that can cause brain damage and/or cut off oxygen supply, such as child abuse or medical malpractice.
Signs of Cerebral Palsy
Signs of cerebral palsy aren’t usually recognized as signs of the disorder in infants until they’re anywhere between two and five years old. The first vague sign that something is wrong is developmental delays in infants, who generally roll over, sit up, crawl, pull themselves up, and walk at roughly the same ages unless there’s something wrong. Infants may show low muscle tone and may appear “floppy” when picked up, as if picking up a rag doll. However, there are clinical signs of cerebral palsy that parents and doctors do look for:
- Poor Muscle Tone or Tension: muscle tone is either too tight or flaccid, or goes back and forth between too tight and flaccid.
- Muscle Spasms: smaller infants tend to move their arms and legs a lot when they’re young. Older children, however, should not have involuntary movement of the limbs or body parts
- Coordination Problems: trouble making intention movements
- Gait Problems: difficulty walking normally or walking at all
- Reflex Problems: abnormal or absent reflexes or atypical reflexive movements. For example, babies should reflexively grasp anything that touches their palm, and a child with cerebral palsy may not exhibit this reflect.
- Balance Problems: difficulty with standing and sitting up
- Posture Problems: inability to stand up straight
- Motor Function Problems: difficulty in doing common movements appropriate for children of the same age
Diagnosing Cerebral Palsy
While all children develop at their own pace, babies and toddlers who exhibit developmental delays may simply be slow or may be showing signs of an underlying problem. However, if a child exhibits symptoms of cerebral palsy, it’s best to get them to doctor for a diagnosis in order to help them develop normally.
Yet, cerebral palsy is difficult to diagnose in young infants precisely because the signs could be signs of other issues, or simply a child developing more slowly than others. Doctors don’t have any single test to diagnose cerebral palsy, and many diagnoses depend on long-term observations of the child and the child’s development. Thus, it can take months, even years before there’s an official diagnosis.
Could Cerebral Palsy be the Result of Medical Malpractice?
Cerebral palsy due to injuries at birth or after birth could be due to medical malpractice. Any injury or harm to a small infant that cuts off the baby’s oxygen could cause the disorder. It’s also possible that a baby acquired the disorder during birth because of an issue that could have been avoided, such as birth asphyxia, when the umbilical cord wraps around a baby’s neck during birth. Usually, this common (up to one-third of births) occurrence doesn’t cause problems because the obstetrician or midwife notices and remedies the situation right away.
What Can You Do?
Cerebral palsy is a lifelong disorder that impairs a child’s ability to live life to the fullest. It can also cost families time, energy, and money taking care of a child with cerebral palsy. Children with the disorder need ongoing medical care and therapy. Those with very severe cerebral palsy may never be able to live on their own and may require constant care for the rest of their lives.
Parents of children who acquired cerebral palsy due to medical malpractice can seek money damages from the responsible party or parties. A lawyer specializing in cerebral palsy medical malpractice can advise the parents and determine if they have a case, and if so, how to proceed getting compensation for their child’s injuries.
Cerebral Palsy Settlements in Florida
- A $5.3 million settlement for a Florida family of an infant who developed cerebral palsy after doctors failed to use a therapy that could have helped stop a birth injury from developing into cerebral palsy.
- A $19.2 million verdict in Lee County for the family of a premature baby who developed cerebral palsy, among other neurological disorders, due to a miscalculation that led to metabolic and cardio-pulmonary complications.
- A $10 million verdict in Volusia County for the family of an infant against an ambulatory service that transported a mother in premature labor from one hospital to another, knowing the ambulance wasn’t equipped to handle a possible premature birth. The baby was born in the ambulance and suffered loss of oxygen that led to development of cerebral palsy.
When Should You Call an Attorney?
It’s best to call an attorney as soon as you have a diagnosis and some idea of the kind of care your child will require. You don’t have to have all the answers or know exactly when your child was injured. However, if you wait too long, you may lose your chance to recover all together. Our medical malpractice attorneys can give you a free case evaluation and determine if you should pursue justice for your child’s injuries.