Cerebral palsy is a complex condition with a wide range of physical and cognitive symptoms. Although it is associated with motor function, cerebral palsy is actually a form of brain damage. In some cases, it results from lack of oxygen or trauma to the brain during childbirth.
If your child was born with cerebral palsy and it may have been the result of medical negligence during prenatal care, labor or delivery, the Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP is here to help. We can have your case reviewed by our medical experts to determine whether you have a viable lawsuit for medical malpractice. Our New York cerebral palsy attorneys have more than a century of collective experience and have helped many families recover compensation for their child’s lifelong needs and challenges.
How our cerebral palsy attorneys can help
You may be able to recover compensation for preventable cerebral palsy. Contact us today for a free case evaluation. We handle birth injury cases for families on Long Island and nearby areas including Nassau County, Suffolk County and Queens. Se habla español.
What Causes Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is the result of damage to a baby’s brain during pregnancy, during labor and delivery, or soon after birth. The damage is done to areas of the brain that help to coordinate the muscles and maintain balance. Individuals with cerebral palsy have poor coordination and often struggle with limited mobility, muscle spasms, speech and other musculoskeletal issues. Each cerebral palsy birth injury case is unique.
The most common cause of cerebral palsy is lack of oxygen (asphyxia) to the brain during or immediately after birth. After only minutes of lack of oxygen, brain cells die. Multiple cells make up tissue, such as brain tissue, which may be irreparably damaged if deprived of oxygen. Over several days and weeks after asphyxia, damaged cells release dangerous toxins into the body as blood flow is restored. This is called “reperfusion injury” and can damage the brain and other parts of the body.
The actual brain damage identified in most cases of cerebral palsy is damage to the white matter of the brain caused by lack of oxygen to the brain or serious infections. This is known as Periventricular Leukomalacia (PVL). It damages the ability of the brain’s white matter to send signals to other areas of the brain and to the body via the nervous system. The lapses in signals result in a lack of coordination. PVL also causes cognitive deficits in premature infants, which may occur along with cerebral palsy.
Other causes of cerebral palsy include:
- Cerebral dysgenesis. This is a brain malformation, which may be caused by genetic mutations, infection accompanied by high fever, trauma or environmental factors, such as exposure to toxins.
- Intracranial hemorrhage. This is bleeding in the brain, which is a symptom and cause of damage. Intracranial hemorrhage may be due to fetal (or “prenatal”) stroke, genetic mutations, serious infections, premature birth and mothers with high blood pressure. Bleeding in the brain may also be caused by trauma to a baby’s head during or just after delivery.
- Pregnancy complications. There are many things that can go wrong during pregnancy and cause medical problems in the newborn. Sometimes a baby twists around in the womb and gets the umbilical cord wrapped around his or her neck, cutting off oxygen. Some women suffer from “placenta previa,” which means the placenta attaches to the cervix rather than the side of the uterus and which can cause serious bleeding during birth. A complicated delivery can lead to oxygen deprivation or trauma to the baby’s head and cerebral palsy.
What Are Some Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is characterized by the inability to fully control motor function, particularly muscle control and coordination. Every child is uniquely affected. Cerebral palsy may cause one child to be in a wheelchair and unable to speak and another child to be unsteady on his or her feet and have difficulty with common physical activities but be able to fully participate.
Common symptoms of cerebral palsy include:
- Muscle tightness, contractions or spasticity
- Involuntary movements (twitches)
- Impaired mobility or a gangling gait or walking on their toes
- Difficulty swallowing and drooling
- Speech impediments
- Bladder and bowel control.
Other children may suffer from respiratory problems, impaired vision (particularly crossed eyes), impaired hearing, seizures, abnormal sensation or perception, sensory disorders or learning disabilities.
A child with cerebral palsy may begin to show symptoms in the first few months after being born. An infant and toddler will miss common developmental milestones, such as for holding his or her head up, sitting up, crawling, pushing down with legs when feet are on a hard surface, standing, walking, etc. Many children with cerebral palsy are officially diagnosed about the age of 2.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Surveillance of Cerebral Palsy in Europe developed the Gross Motor Function Classification System as a universal standard for determining the physical capabilities of people with cerebral palsy. It cites five levels of cerebral palsy based on:
- Ability to sit
- Movement and mobility
- Use of adaptive technology.
The five levels of the classification system are numbered according to decreasing mobility:
- Level 1 cerebral palsy – Ability to walk without limitations.
- Level 2 cerebral palsy – Ability to walk long distances without limitations but not to run or jump. A child may need assistive devices, such as leg and arm braces to learn to walk or a wheelchair outside of their home.
- Level 3 cerebral palsy – Ability to sit with little support and stand without any support. A person with this level of limited mobility will need a walker or cane indoors and a wheelchair outside of their home.
- Level 4 cerebral palsy – Ability to be mobile with assistive devices, such as a powered wheelchair. They’ll need some support when sitting.
- Level 5 cerebral palsy – Unable to maintain proper head and neck position or to sit or stand without support. They may be able to operate a powered wheelchair but will likely be transported in a manual wheelchair.
Treatment of Cerebral Palsy
There is no cure for cerebral palsy. Depending on the severity of the affliction, a child with cerebral palsy may gain some strength and muscle control through physical therapy, speech therapy and exercise or routine physical activity over time. A number of medications may be prescribed to help soothe and relax stiff, contracted and sore muscles.
Some children with cerebral palsy may require surgery to lengthen and loosen tendons and muscles so they may walk or stand normally. Orthopedic surgery may be an option for straightening and correcting deformities of the spine, which sometimes accompanies cerebral palsy. Straightening the spine can relieve abnormal joint pressure and make it easier to walk.
In cases with severe and painful muscle spasms, a surgical procedure called “selective dorsal rhizotomy” may be suggested. This involves severing certain overactive nerves at the base of the spinal column to stop associated muscles from spasming uncontrollably. This may ease the child’s pain and discomfort but can cause numbness or loss of sensation in the limb the severed nerves were connected to.
In most cases, a child with mobility limitations caused by cerebral palsy will have to learn to use and rely on assistive devices. These may range from braces or splints to support and straighten arms and legs to a walker or a wheelchair, or a communication device. A child may need continued assistance with feeding, bathing and grooming.
If general physical therapy focused on strength, balance and mobility is helpful, it may be followed by occupational therapy focused on everyday tasks, like grooming and dressing, getting in and out of cars comfortably, and working out strategies for performing other tasks.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Cerebral Palsy
Your child’s pediatrician should be familiar with cerebral palsy and how it affects a growing child’s life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1 in 323 children has been identified with cerebral palsy.
Your doctor also should be able to direct you to resources available for individuals and families dealing with cerebral palsy, such as the Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York State, which has 46 local affiliates across New York. In New York City, ADAPT Community Network (formerly United Cerebral Palsy of New York City) presents 100 comprehensive programs in education, health, technology, residential and recreational services for individuals and families living with cerebral palsy, autism, down syndrome, neuromuscular disorders and other disabilities. ADAPT also offers preschool, school-age and after-school programs designed to engage and educate children with special needs. ADAPT operates 14 preschools in the five boroughs of New York City.
Some questions to ask your pediatrician or specialist:
- How can we help my child right now? In most cases, a child must be old enough to follow a routine to benefit from therapy, but some children need prompt treatment to avoid muscle and joint damage. Ask your doctor how he or she plans to measure your child’s growth and development and assess his or her needs.
- How will my child develop? You should expect a generalized answer to this question, but your doctor should be able to outline general delays in physical and mental development you should prepare for. Your doctor should be able to give you a sense of your child’s long-term outlook, such as whether he or she will be able to get an education and/or live independently someday.
- What treatments may be ahead for my child? You can expect that your child will have some form of physical therapy and that he or she may need your assistance to complete the therapy. There may be medications that can help lessen your child’s pain or other symptoms. Your doctor should be able to tell you at what age surgery, orthotic devices, wheelchairs, or other assistive devices may become appropriate options for your child.
Did Childbirth Mistakes Cause Your Child’s Cerebral Palsy?
You have the right to know whether your child’s cerebral palsy was preventable. In our experience, however, medical professionals are not forthcoming about childbirth errors. To the contrary, they often cover for each other, alter medical records and otherwise avoid responsibility until faced with undeniable evidence.
That’s where the Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP comes in. New York cerebral palsy lawyer Richard Jaffe has more than 20 years of experience in medical malpractice litigation. We can help you obtain your child’s medical records, as well as the child’s mother’s records, and have them reviewed by independent medical experts. We can find out whether there is evidence that a preventable medical error contributed to your child’s condition.
It is unfortunate that, in many cases, cerebral palsy has been caused by errors and lapses by the mother’s obstetrician (OB-GYN doctor) and/or labor and delivery nurses or technicians. In such cases, the child and family may be able to seek compensation from the medical personnel involved, the medical center and the employing health care provider.
Medical Malpractice Legal Issues
A successful medical malpractice lawsuit must show that the medical practitioner failed to follow the accepted standard of care, and that this specific violation resulted in serious harm to the patient. Our legal team is skilled at connecting cerebral palsy to errors and lapses by the doctor or labor and delivery team. In cases of cerebral palsy, this typically requires evidence of a mistake involving one or more of:
- Oxygen deprivation from leaving the baby in the birth canal for too long
- Failure to detect that the umbilical cord is around the baby’s neck
- Failure to detect a pinched umbilical cord
- Improper use of forceps or vacuum extraction, which caused trauma
- Failure to perform a timely Cesarean section in response to fetal distress
- Failure to monitor fetal heart rate and other vital signs
- Failure to respond to the mother’s distress
- Failure to recognize and treat seizures in the newborn
- Failure to diagnose and treat jaundice or meningitis.
The average lifetime expense for caring for a child with cerebral palsy is estimated at nearly $1 million — over and above the costs of raising a nondisabled child. A child with cerebral palsy will likely need special education services, developmental assistance, occupational and vocational therapy, and, eventually, assisted living or in-home aides. The family’s home may require modifications to accommodate a wheelchair and the family may need a van that can lift and lower a wheelchair.
Assistive and adaptive devices are not one-time costs. Eyeglasses, hearing aids, wheelchairs, computers, vans, etc., must be maintained and will be replaced several times over the years. It is also proper to consider the cost of lost productivity and wages for the parent(s) who must take time away from work or give up working all together to advocate and/or care for their child. Eventually, the child will become an adult whose birth injury has led to limited options for higher education, a work-life, and dating and marriage.
The health care provider’s malpractice insurance should provide compensation to cover these present and future expenses if your child’s cerebral palsy was the result of medical negligence.
We are committed to seeking justice for your child and your family and, most importantly, compensation for the financial burden of a lifetime of special needs care, as well as ongoing pain and suffering.
Talk to Our New York Cerebral Palsy Malpractice Attorneys
If your child has cerebral palsy, he or she may require years or a lifetime of special care. Our medical malpractice lawyers work with several professionals to anticipate those needs and project the costs that you may recover if medical malpractice caused your child’s cerebral palsy. Compensation may also include damages for your own mental anguish as parents.
A compassionate cerebral palsy malpractice lawyer can have your case reviewed by our medical experts at no cost to you. If we can pursue a claim on your behalf, there are no attorney fees unless we recover compensation for you. We handle cerebral palsy birth injury claims on a contingency fee basis. Our team can also help you with such issues as finding doctors, specialists or other resources to help you and your child.
For a free consultation, call our New York cerebral palsy birth injury lawyers at 866-895-0420 or contact us online today. We speak Spanish and Russian.
For a free legal consultation with a cerebral palsy lawyer serving Long Island, call 516-358-6900