Cerebral palsy is a condition usually caused by a brain injury before, during or soon after birth. It can sometimes arise as the result of negligent care at the time of birth or in the neonatal period, where it would not have happened had the medical care provided been better, and in this situation can give rise to a clinical negligence claim.
The cerebral palsy team at Penningtons Manches LLP has considerable experience in advising families of brain-injured children and has successfully investigated and settled many cerebral palsy birth-injury claims arising from a variety of medical situations including difficult or premature births, neonatal strokes, oxygen deprivation during labour, restricted intrauterine growth and infections during pregnancy.
The children we have represented have had a variety of brain injuries, of varying nature and degree, including spastic cerebral palsy, dyskinetic cerebral palsy and ataxic cerebral palsy. Sometimes these are also combined with epilepsy, deafness, visual impairment and autism. It is difficult to say generically how a young child with cerebral palsy may be affected as people will be affected in different ways. In the mildest of cases, the condition is barely noticeable and the child will grow up to live a largely independent life, whilst in other cases the child will require considerable help with everyday aspects of their life and sadly may be able to do very little for themselves.
Clinical negligence in cerebral palsy claims usually arises if there is an unacceptable failure to deliver a baby in the face of evidence of distress during labour. A delay in delivery can mean that the unborn baby is deprived of oxygen in the womb, which it can compensate for to some extent for a certain period of time, but ultimately this tragically causes permanent damage to the brain. There is a window of opportunity for the midwifery and obstetric teams to intervene and to take steps to expedite delivery before the damage caused is permanent, but only when they recognise that all is not well and act swiftly. Their failure to do so may be negligent.
We have also seen cases where the neonatal care has been unsatisfactory and sadly again this has caused a permanent and serious injury to the young child. For example, a failure to diagnose and treat jaundice can result in a condition called hyperbilirubinemia (increased levels of bilirubin in the blood) and kernicterus (this is a complication of neonatal jaundice, leading to brain damage that can cause death or long term effects including cerebral palsy and hearing loss - premature babies are most at risk). A failure to diagnose and treat low blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemia) can also cause long-term brain injury.
It is a sad fact of life that some babies are damaged in the womb during pregnancy, for reasons which may never be understood, and therefore that very few cases of brain damage at birth, or that become evident soon after birth, lead to successful clinical negligence claims. However, if you think that your child's condition may have been caused by something that went wrong during labour, or in the neonatal period, and would like to investigate that, we can help you. If it is possible to bring a claim, and to establish liability, then the damages recoverable will be life-changing for your family and your injured child. The compensation can provide for the professional care, adapted safe accommodation, therapies and equipment your child will need for the rest of his or her life.
Please do get in touch with us if you think we may be able to help you.