Medical Malpractice and Preventable Cerebral Palsy
By Andrew S. Janet
Birth Injury Attorney
Estimates are that 20% of cerebral palsy cases are caused by a lack of oxygen during the birthing process. Many of these cases are caused by medical negligence or malpractice, and hospitals probably will not inform parents that their child’s cerebral palsy was caused by medical error.
Parents of children with cerebral palsy could benefit from contacting an experienced birth injury attorney to help investigate the circumstances of the labor and delivery. Raising a child with cerebral palsy presents many challenges and costs, and one way to get some much-needed help with the costs is to fight for compensation from those who made medical errors and caused your child’s condition.
But how do you know if it might have been medical malpractice? A lawyer can help you answer that question, but in general, signs of fetal distress are common indicators pointing to the cause of the CP. Passing from the uterus through the birth canal can subject a fetus to a great deal of stress, as well as potential complications. A labor and delivery unit is supposed to be monitoring expectant mothers closely enough to prevent these stresses from compromising a baby’s health but, unfortunately, they do not always perform adequately.
Here are some indications from labor and delivery that medical malpractice might have been the cause of your child’s CP:
- Problems with baby’s heart rate or oxygen level. For most deliveries that occur at hospitals, the baby’s heart rate is monitored continuously. If the baby’s heart rate gets too high or too low, medical professionals are supposed to take steps to correct that problem. Similarly, other heart rate patterns on the monitor could indicate that the baby was not tolerating labor well and needed medical attention.
In addition, if the mother experienced any of the following during labor, there most likely were issues with the baby’s heart pattern:
- being turned from side to side or other position changes in bed
- an oxygen mask being placed over the mother’s face
- undergoing an emergency C-section, and/or turning off Pitocin if it was used during labor
- Low Apgar scores. At birth, babies are assigned Apgar scores on a scale of 0 to 10, which serve as indicators of their health. If your child had low Apgar scores in their first 10 to 15 minutes of life—meaning their body looked blue, they had a low or non-existent pulse, they had minimal or no response to stimulation, they had low muscle tone, and/or they weren’t breathing well (and may have needed oxygen and/or a breathing tube)—that is a good sign that they suffered some distress during labor and delivery.
- Long hospital stays within the first month of the child’s life. If a child had medical conditions that made it necessary to keep them in the hospital for more than 5 days after birth, or needed to be readmitted in their first month of life, that might indicate medical complications which could have been the result of medical errors. Similarly, if the child needed to stay in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) for a period of time or be transferred to a different hospital, that is another sign that the child may have sustained a birth injury.
- Head imaging. If your baby had an ultrasound, MRI, or CT scan to evaluate their brain shortly after birth, it could have been to assess problems that arose from labor.
- Need for cooling. Babies who suffer from serious fetal distress during the birthing process are often sent for either head cooling or whole body cooling as a preventative measure.
- Seizures. If your child suffered from seizures in their first few months of life, that is another sign of a birth injury.
- Absence of alternative explanations. Cerebral palsy can also be correlated with other circumstances, so it is more likely to be caused by medical errors if the following factors are NOT present:
- premature birth (especially between 24-32 weeks);
- child diagnosed with autoimmune disease or other genetic disorder;
- mother who used drugs, especially cocaine, during pregnancy;
- trauma to the abdomen during pregnancy;
- untreated warning signs from prior to delivery, such as decreased fetal movement, heavy bleeding, or high blood pressure.
- NOTE: If communicated promptly to a physician, many of these factors may be able to be handled appropriately even if they do make the pregnancy higher-risk, so just because these factors are present does not mean that the CP was not caused by medical error.
The Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC have a long history of investigating cerebral palsy cases, uncovering the truth, and fighting for compensation for those who have been injured by negligence. The team includes an attorney who is also a board-certified OBGYN with more than 20 years’ obstetrical experience. Whether the cause of your child’s condition is medical error or not, you owe it to yourself, and your child, to find out the truth. JJS has helped thousands of families find answers, and fight for the compensation they deserve to take care of their child for life.