Question

My child just got diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Could this have been something caused by medical malpractice in Illinois or any state?

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Answer

First, let me say that we know how devastating those words can sound to a parent, but as you learn more you’ll learn that there are different types of cerebral palsy with varying degrees of disability, and what may seem at first an impossible situation necessarily isn’t. While your son or daughter will live very differently from what everyone once imagined, there is always hope for a fulfilling and meaningful life.

Second, the answer to your question is yes, but in order to truly understand how this is so, I need to explain a little about what cerebral palsy is. Cerebral palsy is a form of brain damage that affects the motor control sections of the brain. In other words, the normal pathways that the brain uses to communicate with the muscles do not function properly because they’ve been damaged. As I alluded to, the result of this damage varies widely from child to child, and depends not only on how extensive the injury is, but also which part of the brain was injured. Thus, the effects of cerebral palsy can range from mild imbalances to severe immobility, yet most typically include abnormal coordination and muscle tone, involuntary movements, balance issues, and trouble walking, including toe and scissor walking. Some of the other complications associated with cerebral palsy include seizures, epilepsy, brain-based speech and hearing impairments (the inability of the brain to make the body say and hear what it is capable of saying and hearing), mental retardation, and other general learning disabilities.

As a general rule, cerebral palsy occurs when a baby or child doesn’t get an adequate supply of oxygen to the brain. Babies can compensate for brief periods of low oxygen, but if these periods get extended, brain tissue begins to die. Physiologically, oxygen deprivation can happen in one or combination of two ways. First, since blood is the vehicle that transports oxygen to the body’s organs and muscles, one way to deprive the brain of oxygen is to deprive it of blood flow. The second way is to stop oxygen from getting into the blood in the first place. Suffocation (asphyxia) is an example of the latter. Both types of injuries can occur before, during, or after delivery of a baby (indeed, any action that deprives a child of oxygen for a substantial amount of time risks causing cerebral palsy).

The causes of oxygen deprivation are varied and can include: a sudden drop in the mother’s blood pressure; prematurity, complications to the baby’s heart, umbilical cord-related injuries (e.g., cord wraps around baby’s neck or a collapsed cord); placental abruption (placenta breaks before birth), excessive stress on baby during delivery, too much stimulation from labor-inducing drugs like Cytotec or Pitocin, breech births, VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean section), fetal monitoring errors, delayed cesarean sections, trauma, and uterine rupture. Many of these causes are preventable, which is another way of saying that many are caused by medical malpractice. At Cirignani, Heller & Harman (www.cirignani.com) we have built-in medical expertise—lawyer Stan Heller is a board-certified doctor from Johns Hopkins medical school, and lawyer James Harman was a certified respiratory therapist before becoming a lawyer, lawyer Patrice Koch is a registered nurse, and we have a board-certified neurologist as of counsel attorney—and we use this medical expertise when reviewing every detail of the labor and delivery to see if medical error (medical negligence) was the cause of your child’s cerebral palsy.

In sum, cerebral palsy has many causes, many of which are the result of doctor or nurse error. I cannot, of course, know what caused your child’s cerebral palsy without looking at the medical records, but we believe that all CP cases should be looked at by a lawyer with experience in birth injury cases. Keep in mind, medical malpractice is all we do, and Stan Heller, the lawyer who is also a doctor, will review your medical records and talk to you about what he’s found free of charge, and without you having to hire us or make any other commitments. The most important thing is to do something.

(Note, while this question is technically a hypothetical one, it is based very closely on a real case handled by our law firm).

Answered 08/01/2013

Disclaimer: This answer was provided by an attorney selected to Super Lawyers, and is intended to be an educated opinion only. This answer should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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