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Can medical malpractice cause cerebral palsy in newborns?

A new baby is a wonderful gift. As new parents, you want only the best for this precious person. Unfortunately, not every birth goes as planned and some parents find themselves grappling with a life-changing diagnosis for their child.

Cerebral palsy is quite common in the United States, and remains one of the most serious medical conditions that can result from a birth injury.

What are the signs of cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy may not be immediately obvious, because the markers like lack of muscle tone and spastic movements can be hard to distinguish from any other newborn. As your baby grows, however, your pediatrician will look for certain developments and milestones in a healthy infant. Signs of cerebral palsy may include:

  • Problems with coordination and control
  • Lack of muscle tone and muscle control
  • Difficulty with speech, breathing and eating due to facial spasms
  • Abnormal reflexes and spastic movement

Doctors can perform certain scans, such as MRI and CT scans that can help them diagnose cerebral palsy. The diagnoses can take years to complete, however.

What is the cause?

Although doctors are still not sure how cerebral palsy develops, they do know several things can cause it. Most of the causes stem from some sort of brain damage that results in a motor deficiency, which may lead to full or partial muscle paralysis. The brain damage most likely stems from:

  • Being forcefully pulled out
  • Oxygen deprivation
  • Being dropped
  • A long labor (over 18 hours)
  • Instrument-related injury
  • Maternal infection before birth

The injury generally occurs before, during, or immediately after birth.

What is the connection to medical malpractice?

Medical malpractice can lead to cerebral palsy under the following circumstances:

  • Prior to childbirth, the doctor does not properly treat an infection in the mother
  • During childbirth, the doctor does not diagnose a problem with the umbilical cord
  • Medical staff does not monitor the fetal heartbeat correctly during labor
  • The doctor misuses tools such as forceps or vacuums and injures the infant
  • The doctor fails to properly administer an emergency cesarean surgery when either mother or child are in distress

If your medical care team made any of these mistakes during the birth of your child, resulting in cerebral palsy or another birth injury, you may have grounds for a medical malpractice case against them. Cerebral palsy has no cure, and has life-long effects. Your child could need special care and medical treatment for the rest of his or her life. If your doctor or hospital is responsible, they should be held liable.

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Michael T. Ratton
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