The birth of a child is one of the most joyous moments in a parent’s life. But for some families, that time of celebration becomes one of grief, anger, and disbelief when they discover that their child has cerebral palsy (CP).
What Is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy refers to a cluster of neurological disorders that affect a child’s muscle control and coordination. CP occurs when a baby’s brain is damaged during labor or shortly after.
In extreme cases, CP becomes apparent immediately after birth. Prematurity, infection, and trauma can cause CP, but most cases stem from a lack of oxygen to the child’s brain. Several issues contribute to this condition. Complications with the umbilical cord, uterus, or placenta increase the risk of CP, as do failures to monitor the progress of labor.
If a medical team fails to identify signs of distress or doesn’t perform a C-section fast enough, the baby can develop CP. When the child is in distress, every contraction lengthens the time the baby goes without oxygen, which leads to brain damage. Severe cases of CP lead to conditions such as spastic quadriplegia, an inability to swallow, and other impairments.
Outside of these situations, CP often goes undiagnosed in infancy. Van Wey, Metzler & Williams, PLLC’ team often meets with families who didn’t learn about the condition until well after their children were born. They may have sensed that something was wrong during the delivery. Perhaps the doctor took too long to arrive or there were labor complications. But they might not have known that the baby went without oxygen for an extended period of time and suffered a brain injury as a result.
Many parents don’t discover the condition until they realize their children aren’t meeting certain growth benchmarks. They may have trouble eating or sleeping, vomit frequently, or be unable to track objects visually. Babies with CP often cannot roll over, crawl, or stand at the appropriate age milestones. Older children struggle with muscle control in their heads and limbs.
Do You Have Grounds for a Cerebral Palsy Malpractice Suit?
Parents whose children have CP are understandably devastated. They must cope not only with the diagnosis, but also with the considerable medical expenses associated with the condition. Many come to us wanting to know whether they can bring a cerebral palsy malpractice suit against their providers. Although they cannot erase their child’s pain, they may be able to ease their path by receiving fair compensation that will cover their medical expenses and provide them access to therapies that could vastly improve their quality of life.
The earlier CP is diagnosed, the better the child’s prospects. Because so much growth happens during the early developmental years, doctors may be able to recommend speech and physical therapies, medications to control seizures and pain, and surgeries to release muscle tightness and correct anatomical abnormalities. However, some children may still need braces, walkers, wheelchairs, and medical equipment that helps them communicate more effectively.
Parents who suspect that their children have CP should see a doctor right away. There are no diagnostic tests that can tell you whether your baby has CP, but MRIs and CT scans can provide insights into their conditions and guide your medical team’s treatment recommendations.
When parents approach us about potential cerebral palsy malpractice lawsuits, we begin with the medical records. We strive to identify exactly what happened during the birthing process and whether there’s evidence of the baby having lost oxygen. It’s vital that we understand the context and all the relevant details before we decide to pursue a cerebral palsy lawsuit.
Court cases are emotionally trying even under the best of circumstances, and parents of children with CP are already stretched to their limits trying to provide the best care and support to their kids. We don’t want to add to their strain unless we’re certain they have a case.
If you believe your child has cerebral palsy, here are the steps we recommend you take next:
Talk to Your Doctors
Before you do anything else, schedule an appointment with your child’s physician. Document any concerning symptoms or behaviors beforehand and make a list of questions to bring in with you. Having these things in writing will ensure that you get the answers you need during this appointment. It also frees you from trying to remember every detail while you’re sitting in an understandably emotional appointment.
Meet With an Experienced CP Lawyer
Research lawyers in your area who specialize in cerebral palsy malpractice lawsuits. These cases are unique even among medical malpractice cases, and not all malpractice lawyers handle birth injury suits. CP cases require extensive expert involvement to determine whether there was actual malpractice or whether it was simply an unfortunate event. CP can occur even without malpractice, so it’s important to determine the specifics before forging ahead into a lawsuit.
However, we usually find that in the most severe cases, at least some negligence was involved. This might include doctors and nurses ignoring warning signs, hospitals cutting corners, and delivery procedures falling well below the expected standard of care. When those factors are at play, there’s often a good chance that the injuries — or at least the severity of the injuries — could have been prevented. But documenting these incidents can be complicated, so it’s best to work with an experienced birth injury attorney who can guide you through the process.
Acquire Medical Records
Here’s where a specialized birth injury lawyer becomes absolutely vital. Medical records will be integral to your case, and requests for these types of injuries are nuanced and complex. You’ll need very specific records to build your case, and you’ll want a good lawyer and team of experts to advise you on how to obtain them.
Cerebral palsy lawsuits demand a high level of expertise, so you don’t want to work with a regular malpractice lawyer. Not every firm has access to a network of birth injury malpractice experts, and they are essential in these types of cases. Before hiring a firm, ask about their expert relationships and how they approach birth injury cases. If they don’t have a strong database of resources on this topic, move on to another firm that does.
Timelines for Cerebral Palsy Lawsuits
Once your legal team decides to pursue a cerebral palsy malpractice lawsuit, you should expect the case to progress over years rather than months. Your lawyers must fully understand the extent of the damage that’s been done to your child. Not all CP symptoms appear right away, so it’s important that you set your expectations appropriately.
We’ve had parents approach us with concerns when their children were only a few months old. But even if their babies show signs of CP, we won’t rush to bring a lawsuit right away. Until the child is a bit older, we can’t know whether they have mild or severe CP, and that distinction is crucial to the case. Our experts will determine the cost of care for the child’s entire life expectancy, and they need to understand the scope of the condition before they can come to an accurate estimate. A child who has mild CP and requires little nursing and physical therapy will need a very different care plan than one who has spastic quadriplegia and needs round-the-clock care for the rest of their life.
Our team typically waits until the child is at least two years of age to move forward with a suit. By two, you’ll have a good idea of what the prognosis is, and we can build the case from there. In rare situations where the child’s survivability is a concern, we will expedite a case. But in most circumstances, we’re concerned with securing damages to cover lifetime care, so we want to wait until we know the full breadth of the child’s condition.
Some parents express concerns that waiting two years to bring a lawsuit diminishes their chances of winning damages. However, we secure evidence immediately and advise them on how to prepare well before we file a case. We will begin requesting medical records right away, and we’ll detail which documents and materials the parents should keep to support their claims.
We always tell parents, you only get one chance to resolve this in your child’s favor. We want to make sure we get it right, and waiting on the final prognosis gives us the best chance of achieving a cerebral palsy lawsuit verdict that provides their family with some measure of relief in this tragedy.
Parents also want to know up front what type of compensation they can expect from a cerebral palsy lawsuit. But the amount depends on the extent of their child’s impairments. Our goal is to ensure that their children are financially secure for the rest of their lives. We want them to have access to the best care possible, which is why we wait to file a lawsuit until we understand their circumstances. Damages for cerebral palsy cases can easily reach millions of dollars, because we want to cover not just basic care but all the resources they need to enjoy a high quality of life.
Don’t Wait to Get Help
Seeking a lawyer isn’t just a smart legal move when you fear that your child has CP. When someone approaches us with a potential CP case, we talk to their doctors right away. We find out the best treatment options and help get those kids into the right programs as soon as possible. As we mentioned before, the earlier CP is diagnosed, the better the outcome for the child.
If you’re concerned that your child has CP, call our office today to schedule a consultation and find out how we can help your family.
By: Kay Van Wey | January 9th, 2018