The term “cerebral palsy” (CP) refers to several neurological disorders. These disorders result from damage to the brain. This can lead to problems with muscle coordination, movement and/or posture. Symptoms tend to occur following damage before, during or shortly after birth. Very young children who experience traumatic injuries may also develop CP. A brain injury resulting from a car accident, for instance, could lead to cerebral palsy symptoms.
According to The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as many as 10,000 children are diagnosed with varying degrees of CP each year. Several thousands of cases result from preventable medical malpractice.
Cerebral Palsy Medical Malpractice in the Birth Process
Medical malpractice resulting in CP may occur during fetal development or delivery or shortly after birth.
A simple administrative error could prevent one provider from being aware of a preexisting medical condition. Or, the medical team could fail to detect fetal distress during delivery. Both scenarios could result in brain damage to a child.
Here, we’ll cover these and other common situations in which medical malpractice may occur. We will address how these errors or omissions may impact a child’s health.
Lack of Adequate Information Early in Pregnancy
Early in pregnancy, most women undergo a series of prenatal tests to determine the health of their unborn child. In some cases, a medical professional may fail to offer such services or misinterpret data from them. Parents that weren’t fully informed of the possibility of giving birth to a child with genetic or congenital defects may be victims of a form of medical malpractice. They may consider pursuing a wrongful birth lawsuit if they would have considered termination of the pregnancy had they been fully aware.
Similar to a wrongful birth lawsuit, wrongful life claims can be pursued. For instance, a medical provider may fail to detect a genetic or congenital condition that would normally be diagnosed via blood testing, ultrasound and/or amniocentesis. Parents should receive prompt and full disclosure of any concerning test results. They should have adequate time to determine whether to continue the pregnancy. Failure to provide such information in a timely manner can be a form of medical malpractice. Parents who have experienced this may be entitled to financial compensation.
Improper Handling of Maternal Infections
Maternal infections can often affect a developing fetus and require prompt diagnosis and treatment. Quick action is the key to preventing or minimizing damage to the baby’s brain tissue and other organs. Infections may be bacterial, viral, fungal or parasitic. Often, they are responsible for a host of preventable problems.
The following situations are ones in which medical malpractice may be present:
• Your health care provider failed to test for a variety of common illnesses, especially if symptoms such as fever are present at any point during pregnancy.
• Your infection did not receive prompt and adequate treatment. In some cases, induction of labor can prevent serious problems.
• Medical personnel did not sufficiently test and/or treat your baby after birth, particularly if any infections were suspected.
Errors Involving Medications
Your healthcare provider may prescribe or utilize medications throughout your pregnancy and/or during delivery. An error involving these medications can have devastating consequences. The following may be considered an act of medical malpractice:
• The use of a medication that is inappropriate or dangerous for the mother or child.
• An improper dose of medication or a prescription that was incorrectly filled by a pharmacy.
• The medical team does not consider potential adverse effects in mothers who are already taking other medications.
• Inadequate monitoring of the condition of both mother and child when anesthesia is used during a surgical procedure.
Any of the above errors could result in health implications in your child, including breathing difficulties, a low birth weight, brain injuries such as the development of CP, and more.
Medical Care Does Not Meet the “Standard of Care”
Health care professionals are required to provide care according to a certain standard. Standards are established by hospital protocols or other medical organizations. Failure to meet these standards could lead to malpractice under the term “improper medical care.” It may involve the following:
• Failure to provide necessary treatment in a timely manner. This can include cesarean section, antibiotic treatment, resuscitation of a compromised infant, and more.
• Lack of assistance when a mother is experiencing a challenging or prolonged labor that could compromise the wellbeing of the newborn.
• Not properly assessing a variety of conditions in either the mother or child. This can include fetal distress, maternal infection, newborn trauma, etc.
A similar form of medical malpractice occurs when a health care provider commits a medical error that damages a patient. In most cases, the following conditions can and should be addressed to minimize or prevent damage to a newborn:
• Placenta previa or abruption or a uterine complication that would prevent a normal labor.
• Umbilical cord problems. These could result in asphyxiation of the fetus during delivery.
• A maternal infection that may initiate pre-term labor unless certain treatments are promptly begun.
• Cephalopelvic disproportion (CPD). This can be corrected with a cesarean section or early delivery of the child.
The term “standard of care breach” may apply if any harm or damage was preventable and/or foreseeable. According to the standard of care, sufficient action should be taken to prevent damage or minimize the risk to any patient involved.
Diagnostic Mistakes Are All Too Common
Some of the most common forms of medical practice involve diagnostic errors. Diagnostic errors may occur when:
• The health care provider is rushed and fails to notice or record symptoms that would normally be followed with specific testing procedures.
• The provider does not refer the patient to a qualified specialist in a timely manner.
• Test results are not interpreted correctly.
• Patient concerns have not been adequately addressed. This can lead missing important clues that could have directed the provider toward a more accurate diagnosis.
Malpractice Involving System or Administrative Errors
A glitch in the system can cause a surprisingly large number of errors. Administrative issues can arise particularly in large hospital settings because so many individuals are involved. These can include not recording all relevant medical conditions or refusing to treat patients based on age, race or other factors. These errors account for a significant number of CP cases each year. Occasionally, medical professionals lack the appropriate credentials for their position. In other situations, the lack of a clear set of protocols for courses of action can create confusion.
Disclosure breaches are a type of administrative error that can result in serious harm to your child. Your health care provider is required to inform you of all of the following:
• All relevant information pertaining to a medication or medical treatment, including possible side effects. He or she must obtain your informed consent before continuing with the treatment.
• Any alternative treatment options that may be available, along with the potential benefits and risks.
• Your right to privacy. Personal information may not be shared with others unless you give permission.
Improperly maintained or malfunctioning equipment can also lead to medical malpractice. Throughout pregnancy and delivery, numerous devices will be utilized to assess the well-being of an unborn child. The improper maintenance, use, sanitation or security of any of these machines can lead to a serious oversight or error resulting in physical damage.
Specialized equipment used on compromised babies in the NICU often means the difference between life and death. Malfunctions can have fatal consequences.
Malpractice in the Emergency Room
A woman may enter an emergency room during her pregnancy or labor. Unfortunately, the potential for many complications exists in this often chaotic setting. This can lead to physical harm to both the mother and child. Some of these include:
• The improper utilization of medications.
• Diagnoses that are incorrect, incomplete and/or based on laboratory tests that are considered wrong for the presenting symptoms.
• Blood transfusion mistakes.
• Not monitoring a patient’s condition and/or not fully treating and evaluating symptoms.
Damage in the Delivery Room
Approximately 20 percent of all CP cases result from brain damage that occurs during the birth process. As a result, the time spent in the delivery room represents a particularly delicate period in which even slight errors can have a lifelong impact on the health of your baby. Under normal circumstances, the placenta continues to deliver oxygen to the baby until he or she is able to breathe independently outside of the womb.
Any condition that restricts this oxygen supply during birth can cause neurological damage. This damage may present as a CP disorder during the first few years of life.
Any of the following conditions or situations may be responsible for neurological damage in babies:
• The improper use of forceps.
• The medical team’s failure to notice signs of fetal distress that warranted an immediate cesarean section.
• A prolonged labor due to CPD or another condition that prevented the baby from being born vaginally.
• Eclamptic symptoms in the mother. If eclampsia or preeclampsia is not properly diagnosed and treated, the mother may experience seizures, while the unborn child can suffer from a host of complications. The prompt administration of medications and/or delivery of the baby is warranted.
Errors on the Operating Table
Surgeons are human, and the additional challenges of working on very small infants creates a greater potential for complications. Medical malpractice can occur in the following situations:
• The alternatives to surgery have not been fully disclosed to the patients or the parents prior to the procedure.
• One or more parts of the body have been damaged during the procedure. While damage in some situations may be inevitable, negligence or an absence of reasonable care that led to the damage is considered an act of malpractice.
• Incorrect surgery, incorrect location or incorrect patient.
• Failure to remove all surgical instruments. The medical team may fail to remove one or more instruments or devices utilized during the procedure. Severe infections, among other problems, may be the result.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits
The law allows parents who have lost a child due to medical malpractice to file a wrongful death lawsuit. They may be able to receive financial compensation for pain, suffering, the loss of companionship, medical and funeral expenses, and sometimes punitive damages if recklessness was involved. Although this is an incomplete list, babies who have perished as a result of any of the following conditions may have been victims of medical malpractice:
• Rh incompatibility.
• Maternal health conditions such as an infection, eclampsia, gestational diabetes, etc.
• Premature labor or an overly extended pregnancy.
• Exposure to dangerous medications and/or substances in utero.
• Newborn health conditions ranging from respiratory distress to infections.
• Oxygen deprivation and/or the delay of a timely cesarean section.
How Do I Know if My Child Experienced Medical Malpractice?
Ultimately, it can be very challenging to determine whether your child’s CP was the result of medical malpractice. Professional lawyers with experience in handling similar cases know what issues to look for in your child’s medical record and can be critical in the discovery process. The following signs warrant a closer investigation of the facts involved:
• Your baby suffered from seizures within the first 48 hours of life.
• Your baby experienced any form of head trauma during the birthing process.
• Signs of distress were evident, but the medical team failed to respond in a timely manner.
Additionally, if you suspect your child did not receive proper medical care after birth, it can be very helpful to speak with a professional attorney. Certain procedures, if initiated in a prompt manner, can minimize the damage that may have occurred during the birth process. Proper resuscitation can mean the difference between life and death for a delicate neonate, and competent, decisive action on the part of your health care provider is required during these emergency situations.