Is cerebral palsy medical negligence?

Having a child with cerebral palsy can have a substantial impact on family life, and understandably you may have a lot of questions. How will cerebral palsy affect your child? What support will he or she need? How did your child develop cerebral palsy in the first place?

Cerebral palsy can result from brain damage or abnormal development of the brain, often due to a lack of oxygen to the brain. Sometimes these issues can arise from medical negligence before, during or shortly after the birth of your baby.

If your child’s cerebral palsy has been caused due to inadequate medical care, you may be able to make a clinical negligence claim to secure the compensation you need to help you care as effectively as possible for your child.

What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a term used to cover several lifelong neurological conditions that affect body movement and coordination. It’s estimated that cerebral palsy affects about 1 in 400 children in the UK. 

Children can be affected in different ways, and in some, the symptoms are mild and barely noticeable. However, others will need care, treatment and support throughout their lives.

The effects of cerebral palsy typically become noticeable in the first 2-3 years of a child’s life and can include: mobility concerns, such as walking on tiptoes, fidgety or jerky movements, muscle spasms, epilepsy, or problems with speaking. It can lead to learning difficulties, behavioural problems, or sensory impairment.

There are three main types of cerebral palsy:

Spastic Cerebral Palsy:  A person living with spastic cerebral palsy has a muscle tone that is tight and stiff, which makes it difficult for them to move. The spasticity can be painful, with the muscles often going into spasm.

Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy: The person’s muscle tone rapidly changes from being too tight to too loose, which can lead to uncontrolled body movements or muscle contractions. A person living with dyskinetic cerebral palsy may find it difficult to control their tongue, vocal cords, or breathing.

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy: This form of cerebral palsy affects balance, coordination, and spatial awareness. It can lead to shaky, unsteady movements and can also affect speech and language.

Some people may suffer a mixture of two or three of the cerebral palsy types, and all three may be caused by clinical negligence.

What can cause cerebral palsy?

Although the exact cause of cerebral palsy cannot always be identified, it is known that complications leading up to, during or after the birth of a child can impact brain development and lead to cerebral palsy.

Some common causes of cerebral palsy during the delivery of a baby can include the baby becoming tangled in the umbilical cord or stuck in the pelvis, which leads to reduced oxygen levels.

During pregnancy, if the baby’s mother catches an infection or develops a condition such as hypoglycemia, it can also lead to the condition.

After birth, if an infant experiences a bleed on the brain, a neonatal stroke or develops meningitis, this may also be a cause of cerebral palsy. Trauma to the head may also lead to cerebral palsy, such as a car accident or a fall.

How can cerebral palsy be caused by medical negligence?

In some cases, if medical professionals didn’t follow accepted medical practices to identify issues in a timely manner and take suitable actions to manage them, then cerebral palsy may have resulted from medical malpractice.

Before birth

A mother is monitored throughout her pregnancy to ensure that she and her unborn child remain healthy. Sometimes, though, a mother will develop a condition or infection during pregnancy and it is the doctor or midwife’s responsibility to ensure she gets appropriate treatment in a timely manner.

Clinical negligence may have caused cerebral palsy in the child if there has either been a failure to diagnose the illness in the mother or take reasonable action to treat the concerns in a timely manner.

During delivery

When you’re giving birth to your baby, you trust the medical professionals around you to guide you through the process. However, there are times when mistakes happen.

A baby may show signs of stress during delivery and it is the medical team’s responsibility to recognise the indicators and take appropriate action. For example, if a baby’s umbilical cord gets wrapped around its neck or the baby gets caught in the pelvis or birth canal, then its heart rate may spike and it may not get the oxygen they need.

Another common birth scenario is the use of forceps to assist in the delivery of a baby. If too much pressure is applied to the baby’s head, this can lead to brain damage.

When birth complications arise, then an emergency caesarean section is usually needed, but if the medical team fails to notice the complications or perform the caesarean section in time, then this may be considered negligence. Failure to act in a timely manner can lead to delayed delivery, sometimes causing permanent brain damage that leads to cerebral palsy.

After birth

Medical negligence may also occur after the birth of the baby, too, which may lead to the development of cerebral palsy. Post-birth, babies are monitored by medical staff to ensure they are fit and healthy. However, cerebral palsy may have resulted from clinical negligence if a medical professional fails to diagnose or treat jaundice, low blood sugar or infections, such as meningitis.

Can I make a claim?

Whether your child was delivered or treated by the NHS or a private healthcare provider, if your child has cerebral palsy as a result of clinical negligence, you have the right to make a clinical negligence compensation claim.

To make a claim, you should contact a medical negligence lawyer who has the experience and specialist knowledge to help you obtain the answers you seek and financial compensation to support your family’s needs.

How medical negligence can be proven

For a cerebral palsy medical negligence claim to be successful, you need to prove that the medical negligence caused the condition. This means that you’ll need to provide or obtain evidence that demonstrates your child’s medical care fell below acceptable standards, and that cerebral palsy was caused by the action or lack of action of the medical professionals involved.

This may sound complicated, but an experienced legal team can help you to prepare everything you need to make a successful medical malpractice claim.

What is the time limit for a medical negligence claim in this instance?

Like many legal claims, a limitation deadline applies to medical negligence claims.

For claimants who were injured during childhood, their parents or guardians have until the claimant is 21 years old to make a claim. However, this time limit can sometimes vary depending on the circumstances involved. The best course of action is to seek specialist advice about the circumstances of your own specific case and the time limits that will apply.

If you are considering making a claim against a healthcare professional for cerebral palsy medical negligence, it’s recommended that you do so as soon as you identify that negligence may have taken place or the condition becomes apparent. It can become more challenging to obtain medical records and supporting evidence as time passes.

Contact Waldrons

Learning that your child has cerebral palsy as a result of possible medical negligence can be a worrying time for your family. At Waldrons, we have an expert legal team ready to help you through every step of making a clinical negligence claim to secure financial compensation to support your family. Get in touch today to discuss your case with us.

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Last reviewed on 11/07/23 by Joseph Norton who is an Associate Director and Head of Compensation