The birth of a child is a beautiful and momentous occasion for any family, but this miraculous event can quickly turn into tragedy if the newborn suffers from a preventable birth injury.
Cerebral palsy is one of the most common birth injuries, affecting approximately 10,000 live births annually in the United States. This condition is caused by damage to the developing brain and can lead to a lifetime of physical and cognitive impairments.
If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, you may wonder if you have a valid medical malpractice claim. This guide will provide an overview of cerebral palsy lawsuits, including who can file a claim and what damages may be available.
What Is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that affects a person’s movement and muscle tone. The condition is caused by damage to the developing brain, typically occurring during pregnancy or delivery. Cerebral palsy can range from mild to severe, often leading to lifelong impairments.
Signs of Cerebral Palsy
The signs of cerebral palsy vary depending on the complexity of the condition. Some common symptoms include:
- Muscular weakness or stiff muscles
- Abnormal muscle tone
- Problems with fine motor skills
- Tremors or involuntary movements
- Delayed development milestones
- Difficulty in speaking and hearing
- Problems with balance and muscle coordination
- Difficulty in swallowing or excessive drooling
- Learning and developmental disabilities
If your child is displaying any of these symptoms, you should consult with a doctor as soon as possible. Early cerebral palsy diagnosis and treatment are essential for managing the condition.
Types of Cerebral Palsy
There are four main types of cerebral palsy, each with its own set of symptoms.
1. Spastic Cerebral Palsy
This is the most common type of cerebral palsy. Children with spastic cerebral palsy have rigid and inflexible muscles and problems with movement. It is characterized by:
- Tight and rigid muscles
- Exaggerated and jerky movements
- Limited mobility
- Abnormal gait
It is further divided into the following subtypes:
- Spastic Diplegia: This form of spastic cerebral palsy affects the legs more than the arms. This causes the child to have difficulty walking and a “scissor-like” gait or crossed knees.
- Spastic Hemiplegia: This spastic cerebral palsy affects one side of the body more than the other. Children with spastic hemiplegia often have one arm that is significantly weaker than the other.
- Spastic Quadriplegia: This is the most catastrophic form of spastic cerebral palsy. It affects all four limbs, causing muscle stiffness and weakness.
2. Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
This is the rarest type of cerebral palsy. Problems with balance and coordination characterize ataxic cerebral palsy, and it also affects motor skills. This type of cerebral palsy often leads to:
- Unsteady gait
- Tremors or shaking
- Problems with depth perception
- Difficulty with gross and fine motor skills
- Dysmetria (a condition where the person cannot accurately judge the range of their movements)
3. Athetoid Cerebral Palsy
This is also known as dyskinetic cerebral palsy. Involuntary muscle movements characterize athetoid cerebral palsy. This can cause the person to have:
- Slow, writhing movements
- Rapid, jerky motions
- Difficulty in controlling facial expressions
- Problems with eating and drinking
- Difficulty in walking and sitting
- Problems with speech and pronunciation
4. Mixed Cerebral Palsy
Mixed cerebral palsy is a medley of two or more types of cerebral palsy. It is typical for a child with mixed cerebral palsy to have symptoms of two types of the condition, but some children may have symptoms of all three. The most common combination is spastic and athetoid cerebral palsy.
Some symptoms are apparent and noticeable at birth or in early infancy. However, other symptoms may not appear until later in childhood as the brain and the nervous system develop. The severity of the symptoms will vary from person to person.
Causes of Cerebral Palsy
There is no single cause of cerebral palsy, which can be caused by various factors that damage the developing brain. The most common causes include:
- Premature birth: A child born before 37 weeks is at an increased risk of developing cerebral palsy. This is because the baby’s brain is not fully developed and is more vulnerable to brain injury.
- Infections: If the mother contracts any diseases during pregnancy, it can lead to cerebral palsy for the child. These include chicken pox, German measles or rubella, toxoplasmosis, and cytomegalovirus.
- Brain damage: Bleeding, inflammation, and brain injuries can damage developing nerve cells and lead to cerebral palsy. This can be caused by head injuries, strokes, or lack of oxygen to the brain.
- Fetal distress: This occurs when the fetus is not getting enough oxygen during pregnancy. Fetal distress can be caused by various factors, including placental problems or maternal health conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure.
Cerebral Palsy Caused by Medical Malpractice
Cerebral palsy can be caused by medical negligence or medical malpractice. Medical experts are sworn to provide a certain standard of care to their patients during pregnancy, labor, delivery, or after birth.
- Prenatal Care: If the mother does not receive proper prenatal care from a medical practitioner, it can lead to cerebral palsy for the child. This includes things like not receiving the appropriate medication, not being adequately monitored for infections, or not being treated for medical conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure.
- Labor and Delivery: Complications during labor and delivery can also lead to cerebral palsy. This can include excessive force during delivery, prolonged labor, or failure to correctly monitor the baby’s heart rate.
- After Birth: If the baby is not properly cared for, it can also lead to cerebral palsy. This can include failure to treat jaundice, adequately monitoring for seizures, or not providing enough oxygen to the baby.
If medical professionals do not meet the standard of care, it can result in cerebral palsy or other serious injuries for the child. Here are examples of medical negligence that can lead to cerebral palsy.
- Failure to monitor the fetus: If the fetus is not monitored properly during pregnancy, it can lead to problems like fetal distress or placental abruption.
- Failure to treat an infection: If the mother contracts a disease during pregnancy, the doctor must treat it promptly. If the condition is not treated, it can lead to problems like cerebral palsy in the child.
- Failure to treat medical conditions: If the mother has a medical condition like diabetes or high blood pressure, the medical team must manage it properly. If the condition is not managed correctly, it can lead to problems like fetal distress or preeclampsia, leading to cerebral palsy for the child.
- Improper use of force during delivery: If the obstetrician-gynecologist or midwife uses too much pressure during delivery, it can cause problems like skull fractures or spinal cord injuries, leading to cerebral palsy for the child.
- Improper use of or faulty birth-assisting tools: If the doctor misuses birth-assisting tools or if the devices are defective, it can lead to cerebral palsy or other birth injuries for the child.
- Failure to notice complications: If the doctors fail to see or adequately treat complications promptly during labor and delivery, it can result in the child’s cerebral palsy or other serious injuries.
Determining Liability in Cerebral Palsy Cases
If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, discussing your legal options with cerebral palsy attorneys experienced with birth injury lawsuits is crucial. There are many different ways to build a cerebral palsy lawsuit, and the best course of action will depend on the specific facts of your case.
To prove that medical malpractice or negligence caused your child’s cerebral palsy, you will need to verify that the doctors or other medical professionals acted negligently and deviated from the standard of care and that this deviation was a direct cause of your child’s birth injury.
Some cerebral palsy cases will involve medical malpractice, while others will be brought under product liability cases. In some cases, getting a claim against multiple parties may be possible.
For example, suppose your child’s cerebral palsy was caused by a defective product and negligent medical care. In that case, you may be able to bring claims against both the manufacturer of the product and the medical providers or the hospital.
Damages You Can Recover From Cerebral Palsy Cases
In 2003, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that it would cost about a million dollars to provide lifetime care for people with cerebral palsy. Thus, it’s vital for parents of children with cerebral palsy to fight for their claim and get the fair financial compensation they need to provide for their child’s future care.
If you are successful in your cerebral palsy lawsuit, you may be able to recover damages for:
- Medical expenses: You can recover the cost of all medical care related to your child’s cerebral palsy, including hospitalization, medical bills, surgeries, doctor’s visits, and medication.
- Future medical expenses: You can also recover the cost of future medical care your child is expected to need due to their condition.
- Pain and suffering: You can recover damages for the physical and emotional suffering your child has experienced due to cerebral palsy.
- Special education and therapies: You can recover the cost of special education and treatments your child needs.
- Assistive equipment and home modifications: You can recover the cost of any assistive technology or home modifications your child needs.
- Loss of enjoyment of life: You can recover damages for how their cerebral palsy has diminished your child’s quality of life.
- Loss of earnings for parents: In some cases, parents may be able to recover damages for the loss of earnings they have experienced due to having to take time off work to care for their child.
- Punitive damages: In some cases, you may also be able to recover punitive damages, which are designed to punish the wrongdoer and deter future misconduct.
Statute of Limitations for New York Birth Injury Cases
In New York, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases and cerebral palsy cases are generally two and a half years from the date of the birth injury.
It is important to note that the statutes of limitations are complex and strict, and if you do not file your claim within the specified time, the court will likely bar you from doing so.
Suppose you believe your child’s cerebral palsy was caused by medical negligence. In that case, it is crucial to speak with an experienced New York cerebral palsy lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your legal options and ensure that your claim is filed on time.
The Birth Injury Claims Process
The birth injury claims process can be long and complex. It is vital to have experienced cerebral palsy attorneys on your side to ensure that your rights are protected and that you receive the total financial compensation you are entitled to.
Most cerebral palsy lawsuits follow the same general process:
Cerebral palsy lawyers will file the claim on behalf of their clients. In this case, the plaintiffs are the parents of the child with cerebral palsy. The defendant is typically the hospital, doctors, or other medical experts alleged to have caused the child’s condition. They will be given time to respond to the claim.
After the claim has been filed, both sides will engage in the discovery process, during which they will collect evidence to support their medical malpractice case. This includes medical records, expert testimonies, and witness interviews.
This process can be lengthy and complex. It is crucial to have experienced cerebral palsy attorneys on your side to ensure that all relevant evidence is collected and your rights are protected.
After the discovery process has been completed, the parties will typically participate in a mediation, a meeting in which they will try to reach a settlement agreement. If they cannot agree, the case will go to trial.
Most cerebral palsy lawyers will encourage their clients to participate in mediation, as it can be a less stressful and more efficient way to resolve the case. An experienced attorney knows that going to trial can be a long and complicated process and can delay payment to parents and families struggling to pay for their child’s medical care.
However, it is essential to note that not all cases will settle during mediation, and you should not feel pressured to accept an offer that is unfair or does not give you full compensation for your losses.
If the parties can reach an agreement during mediation, they will sign a settlement agreement. This agreement will outline the terms of the settlement and how they will make the payments. If not, the case will go to trial.
It is important to note that once a settlement agreement has been signed, it is challenging to change it. Therefore, it is crucial to have expert cerebral palsy lawyers on your side to ensure that the agreement is fair and that you receive total compensation for your child. They will also help determine if you should settle or go to trial with your medical malpractice case.
The case will go to trial if the parties cannot agree during mediation. In New York, medical malpractice cases are tried before a judge and jury.
The trial process can be long and complex, but it can also be rewarding as you may be able to receive better compensation for your child’s injuries compared to a settlement. That’s why it’s crucial to have expert cerebral palsy lawyers, so they can help you build a strong case and minimize risks.
How a Cerebral Palsy Lawyer Can Help You
Consulting with an experienced birth injury attorney is vital to ensure your case is handled correctly and efficiently. They can:
- Help you navigate the complex legal process
- Determine if you have a valid case
- Gather strong evidence to support your claim
- Request and review your medical records
- Consult with experts to build a strong case
- File your claim promptly
- Negotiate with the insurance companies on your behalf
- Participate in mediation
- Take your case to trial, if necessary
Cerebral palsy lawyers can also help you understand the severity of your child’s injuries and what type of compensation your family may be entitled to. They can minimize the stress and anxiety of the legal process, so you can focus on your child’s care.
Contact an Experienced Cerebral Palsy Lawyer Today
No two cerebral palsy cases are alike, and the compensation you may be entitled to will depend on the extent of medical malpractice, the severity of your child’s injuries, the expected cost of their future medical care, and other factors.
Suppose your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. In that case, it is essential to consult with an experienced New York birth injury lawyer who can review your case and help you understand your legal options. The experienced attorneys at Pagan Law Firm represent clients in birth injury cases and can provide outstanding legal services for parents or families of children with cerebral palsy. We understand the challenges that you are facing and will fight for the best interest of your child and your family.
Our birth injury lawyers are prepared to help you! Contact us today for a free consultation.