Cerebral palsy is caused by damage to the brain which normally occurs before, during or soon after birth. It is estimated that one in every 400 children is born with cerebral palsy and the symptoms vary from child to child. Some children will have mild symptoms whilst others will be profoundly disabled and require lifelong care. Children with cerebral palsy can often have other related conditions which include epilepsy, learning difficulties, incontinence, impaired vision and/or hearing, difficulties speaking or understanding other people speak, delayed growth, curved spine or drooling.
Although the symptoms of cerebral palsy are related to the individual’s muscles in one or more parts of the body, the condition is caused by damage or faulty development in a part of the brain which sends messages to the muscles to control movement and co-ordination. The damage or faulty development in the brain usually occurs as the baby is developing in the womb, during birth or shortly after birth.
In most cases, the cause of the damage to the brain is not known. In many cases, it may be simply a chance error in the way the brain develops. Genetic facts may also play a part in some cases. However, some factors are known to increase the risk of developing cerebral palsy.
- Pre-term birth (premature babies). In particular, babies born before 28 weeks development.
- Multiple births, i.e. twins, triplets or more.
- Infections of the pregnant mother such as rubella, chickenpox and toxoplasmosis may be a cause in some cases.
- Severe jaundice in a new born baby can be a cause.
- There is an increased risk of having a child with cerebral palsy in mothers who smoke, drink a lot of alcohol or take drugs such as cocaine.
- Cerebral palsy can also be caused during the birth, for example where medical staff fail to act swiftly to remove a baby with a twisted umbilical cord or there are other complications at birth leading to oxygen starvation. Some cases are caused after birth, for example as a result of meningitis or other brain infections that occur in young babies.
Medical negligence can result from failing to monitor the mother or child properly, failing to take account of warning signs such as falling or unhealthy heartbeat or the presence of meconium and disproportionate pain. Also failing to deliver the baby when required, either naturally, assisted by forceps or by caesarean section.
In the case of CJL (child by his mother and litigation friend AJL) -v- West Midland Strategic Health Authority (2009) it was held that the NHS Trust was liable for the cerebral palsy suffered by a baby as a result of an obstetrician’s failure to intervene quickly enough in its delivery. It was found that medical assistance should have been called when midwives were unable to confirm foetal wellbeing and that there was evidence indicating that the child’s condition was deteriorating. The midwives had called for an obstetrician at the correct time and had not breached their duty of care. The obstetrician however had failed to arrive within the expected timeframe and it was found that if the child had been delivered earlier he would have either suffered no brain damage or only minor brain damage.
There are also pre-birth duties a hospital must adhere to as failure to conduct these can lead to an increased risk. This was highlighted by the case of Stephen Loraine (a child by his mother and litigation friend, Pauline Loraine) -v- Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (2008). Here it was held that the hospital was negligent in its practice when booking in a pregnant patient. The hospital had relied on a patient to report any potential complications and would then only retrieve her files on the earlier pregnancies if it appeared from her report that they might be material. It was held by the Court that the system in place was flawed and that it exposed the unborn child to an avoidable risk.
The mother had had 4 previous pregnancies and the hospital should have retrieved the records of these and it was held that if it had done so, it would have alerted them to a real danger of obstructive delivery and the management of the mother’s pregnancy would have been affected accordingly and the child would have been born uninjured rather than with cerebral palsy.
Therefore although there are many natural factors which sadly mean cerebral palsy is inevitable it is clear that on occasions the condition could have been avoided if the proper medical procedures and management had been followed.
If you believe that your own, or a family or family member’s child has suffered cerebral palsy, we would advise you to contact a specialist Clinical Negligence Solicitor.
Once the NHS complaints procedure is completed investigations would begin by obtaining a copy of both the child’s and mother’s medical records and subsequently instructing a medical expert to prepare a report dealing with the cause of the cerebral palsy.
If it can be establish that the cause of the cerebral palsy was due to negligence on the part of the hospital or doctor, they can arrange therapy and obtain compensation for the child to make their life as comfortable as possible.
Gregory Abrams Davidson LLP specialise in obtaining compensation for client’s who have sustained injury as a result of Clinical Negligence. We have many years of experience dealing with claims against hospitals (both NHS and Private), dentists and general practitioners.
If you would like to enquire about a potential Clinical Negligence claim, you can contact a member of our Team on 0151 733 3353. Calls can be taken 24 hours a day or alternatively e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org