Cerebral palsy is an especially unfortunate disease that typically develops after damage to a baby’s developing brain in the womb, often because of unpredictable conditions. In other cases, however, cerebral palsy can occur because of a physician’s error during birth.
If you believe your doctor or caregiver’s negligence during birth led to your child developing cerebral palsy, contact an experienced cerebral palsy attorney at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA as soon as possible to get a better idea of your rights and figure out your next steps. In the meantime, read on to learn more about cerebral palsy cases and for answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we receive from cerebral palsy accident clients.
What Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers Can Bring to the Table
If your baby was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, either immediately after birth or in the aftermath of a serious head injury in the month after birth, you need legal support as soon as possible. At Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we have extensive experience dealing with a wide range of personal injury claims, including medical malpractice and birth injury claims. We have helped many of our past medical malpractice victim-clients achieve better settlement offers and court awards.
While we cannot guarantee the results of your claim, our experienced attorneys can help guide you through the process of filing your claim, from investigating your child’s birth and any evidence you have of potential malpractice to helping you understand the legal process for obtaining the compensation you deserve.
The Impact of Cerebral Palsy
In the United States, around one in 345 children have a cerebral palsy diagnosis. Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disability in childhood. The impact of cerebral palsy can vary depending on the severity of the child’s diagnosis: for example, around 58.9 percent of children with cerebral palsy can walk independently, but others may need to use a walker or other assistive device. In extreme cases, cerebral palsy can put the victim in a wheelchair.
Cerebral palsy can occur in multiple forms, though most children have spastic cerebral palsy.
- Spastic cerebral palsy. Spastic cerebral palsy, which constitutes 80 percent of people with cerebral palsy, results in increased muscle tone. It can cause stiff muscles and awkward movement. Spastic cerebral palsy can impact different areas of the body: the legs specifically, one side of the body, or all four limbs, the trunk, and the face.
- Dyskinetic cerebral palsy. Dyskinetic cerebral palsy usually impacts the movement of the limbs. It can cause uncontrollable movement of the limbs. How the limbs move may depend on the specific individual. Dyskinetic cerebral palsy causes rapidly changing muscle tone, from too loose to too tight, not just between days but over a single day.
- Ataxic cerebral palsy. Ataxic cerebral palsy causes balance and coordination challenges. Those afflicted with ataxic cerebral palsy may have trouble with both all motor skills, from throwing or catching a ball to the fine motor skills necessary for writing, eating, or crafting.
- Mixed cerebral palsy. In addition to the various individual types of cerebral palsy, some people can have signs of more than one type of cerebral palsy. Mixed cerebral palsy can mean an array of symptoms, including symptoms from each category or unique symptoms that result because of the combination.
Treatment and Intervention for Cerebral Palsy and Its Impact on the Family
The sooner a family can identify signs of cerebral palsy in a child, the sooner treatment and intervention can begin. Early intervention can prove critical in offering a child as much support as possible, which may increase the child’s overall outcomes. Medical science has not yet produced a cure for cerebral palsy. However, treatment can help improve the child’s quality of life and allow them to maximize their capabilities as much as possible with their condition. Some interventions can come through state assistance.
Other interventions, however, may involve costly medical treatment paid for out-of-pocket.
- Medical Interventions. Children with cerebral palsy may go through surgeries or take medications each day. Often, they will receive multiple rounds of treatment. They may also need braces to help stabilize their limbs. These braces often require multiple replacements as the child grows, since they need to be based on the child’s size and overall muscle tone. These medical interventions can prove unduly expensive for many families.
- Therapies. In addition to medications and surgeries, many children with cerebral palsy face multiple therapies regularly. They may need to attend physical, occupational, and speech therapy to help with overall development and to increase the odds that they will reach their full potential. Besides also carrying a great monetary cost, these therapies can take up a great deal of time, leaving family members of these children, especially children not yet in school, with little time to attend to other activities.
- Caregiving. Children with cerebral palsy often require a considerable degree of care. Sometimes, it proves more difficult for them to get a place in a daycare or preschool setting, since they may require a higher level of care than the facility provides. In many cases, one parent may choose to give up a job or career to tend to their child’s greater needs.
Who Bears Liability When Your Child Has Cerebral Palsy?
Given the burdens cerebral palsy imposes, it makes sense for parents to ask whether it could have been avoided. Sometimes, cerebral palsy may occur due to an error in development in the womb. In other cases, however, cerebral palsy can occur for other reasons, often because of a birth injury. Cerebral palsy can also occur from trauma to the head in the infant’s first month of life. In these latter cases, the negligence of another party may be to blame for the damage, and you might hold them liable for compensation.
Birth Injuries and Cerebral Palsy: Determining Liability
Birth injuries that result in cerebral palsy may occur because of gross negligence on the part of a nurse or doctor present at the birth of the child. Cerebral palsy can occur because of oxygen deprivation before or immediately after birth. Caregivers should carefully monitor the baby’s heart rate throughout labor and delivery. A drop in heart rate could indicate fetal distress or oxygen deprivation, which could lead to cerebral palsy-causing brain damage. Blood gases outside the normal range could indicate that the baby did not receive adequate oxygen immediately after delivery, also potentially resulting in cerebral palsy.
Most often, doctors bear liability for failure to notice a fetus in distress and take prompt action. Generally, you need to pursue compensation through the specific doctor’s medical malpractice insurance. The doctor who attended your delivery will most often bear liability, not other doctors in the facility who did not monitor your infant or attend your birth.
Nurses, however, can also commit errors that can lead to cerebral palsy, including failing to properly track heart rate during delivery or failing to notify the attending doctor about potential problems quickly. Either way, the doctor or nurse is likely to be covered by their employer’s medical malpractice insurance policy, and the policy will pay out compensation for your child’s cerebral palsy.
When Cerebral Palsy Occurs After Birth
Trauma to an infant’s head in the first month after birth can also lead to symptoms of cerebral palsy. Often, head trauma occurs because a caregiver drops the baby. It can also occur because an unattended infant rolls off of a surface far off the ground, or because an object drops on the infant’s head. Though infants usually prove very resilient, head injuries can cause serious brain damage, which can result in lasting consequences.
A caregiver who is negligent when caring for the baby, including leaving the baby on a dangerous surface or dropping the baby due to a lack of care and precaution, may bear liability for the accident that results in cerebral palsy.
Recovering Compensation When Your Child Suffers Cerebral Palsy
When you file a lawsuit for compensation after your child is given a cerebral palsy diagnosis, you should expect a full investigation into your child’s medical history. The medical malpractice insurance company will consider factors like whether the pregnancy appeared to develop normally before birth or whether your child showed any signs of distress during birth.
How much compensation you can recover can depend on a variety of factors, including what led to your child’s injuries and how much medical malpractice coverage the doctor or facility has. Typically, however, your compensation will fall under several clearly defined categories.
Medical Expenses Related to Your Child’s Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy often requires long-term medical treatment. Such treatment can be prohibitively expensive, especially if the child needs intensive surgeries or continuing prescription medications. Since cerebral palsy can also interfere with eating or even breathing, a child may need constant medical attention to maintain overall health. On average, the cost of cerebral palsy over a lifetime can amount to more than $1 million, not accounting for normal living costs.
Special Education Costs
Children with cerebral palsy may need special education services to meet their educational needs. Many children with cerebral palsy struggle with learning deficits. Special education costs can add up quickly, especially for children who need to attend a special school.
Many children with cerebral palsy will go through physical, occupational, and speech therapies throughout their lives. Ongoing physical and occupational therapy can help children cope with their changing limitations, but these expenses add up quickly, and can become a great burden, especially depending on the limits of your insurance policy.
Children with severe cerebral palsy may need multiple modifications to make their homes suitable and accessible for them to live in. Those accommodations may include things like wheelchair ramps, to allow for a child to get in and out of the home. Children with cerebral palsy may need widened doorways, a special bathroom, or even a lift system to get in and out of bed as they get older and too heavy for their parents to carry. Accommodations may change throughout the child’s life as his needs change.
Parental Lost Wages
A parent informed that their child has cerebral palsy may decide to stay home with the child instead of trying to work. Juggling the child’s therapies, appointments, and procedures, especially in the early days, can prove incredibly difficult by itself, and fitting time in for work on top of it all may feel impossible.
Parents may also have to miss work regularly due to their child’s appointments or procedures, or to care for the child. When they can’t work, the family can lose a significant amount of potential wages. Lost work can also lead to considerable missed opportunities for the parent that gives up his job, since they cannot advance their career and maintain connections, certifications, and other things necessary to return to work later.
Pain and Suffering
Cerebral palsy can change parents’ hopes and dreams for their child and permanently transform a child’s life. While some children with cerebral palsy pull through and experience positive outcomes, others may have devastating challenges that stick throughout their lives.
On top of the physical pain this condition often brings, a child with cerebral palsy may lack social relationships, cannot always participate with peers, and experience emotional and mental challenges. Compensation for pain and suffering might not be as easily quantifiable as a medical procedure, but it should still be paid to account for such impacts on your family’s and child’s lives.
Cerebral Palsy Attorney FAQs
Your child received a cerebral palsy diagnosis due to injuries suffered during or immediately after birth. Now what?
Contact Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA to learn more about your legal rights and whether you may have grounds for a claim following your child’s injuries. In the meantime, read on for answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we get from our cerebral palsy clients.
1. How do I know that a birth error led to my child’s cerebral palsy?
Parents may have no idea that their child suffered complications during birth that could lead to cerebral palsy. You may have never been informed that your child experienced oxygen deprivation or that your child’s heart rate dropped during delivery. In some cases, parents do not realize that their child has cerebral palsy until the child fails to meet developmental milestones.
In other cases, you might have picked up on something off during the delivery process. You might have noticed your baby’s distress before birth, then later discovered that it had severe consequences. You might have remembered the doctor and nurse whispering, or a nurse panicking after realizing too late that something had gone wrong.
Parental memory can be a critical source of evidence when discovering when cerebral palsy occurred. Your medical records will also show evidence of how the birth progressed.
Whether you have some suspicion about what birth error led to your child’s cerebral palsy or have no idea, it is in your best interest to consult with a birth injury lawyer. Your lawyer will look over all available evidence, including such things as birth records and any pictures you may have taken. Your lawyer should look at the baby’s test results, including APGAR scores, heart rate records, and blood gas results. All these factors can show evidence of oxygen deprivation or brain damage, which could indicate that the doctor’s negligence led to your child’s injuries and diagnosis.
2. The doctor who delivered my baby knew he made an error, and his medical malpractice insurance company contacted me to try to make it right. Should I accept a settlement offer?
Most of the time, the doctor who committed negligence during the birth process will not verbally acknowledge the error. In some cases, however, the doctor may let you know that he committed an error, and his insurance company may try to issue a settlement offer soon after your child’s birth or after you receive a diagnosis. In other cases, the hospital may contact you and offer a settlement to try to offer you funds quickly.
It may be tempting to accept the quick offer, especially because the bills associated with your child’s cerebral palsy start flowing in immediately. Often, parents end up accepting an insurance company’s first offer because it seems to be the best option in a desperate situation.
Before you accept an offer, however, it’s in your best interest to consult a birth injury attorney, who can help you understand whether the offer is fair and you should accept or if the amount will be insufficient to cover your expenses and you should instead demand more.
3. The hospital offered me a patient care advocate to discuss my claim. Do I really need an attorney?
While a patient care advocate stands for a patient’s best interests, that advocate is also on the hospital’s payroll. In many cases, a patient care advocate will not steer you towards options that will maximize the compensation you really deserve after the hospital’s error. They will protect the negligent hospital, doctor, and other staff—not you.
An attorney is not paid by the hospital and is hired to represent you and only you. An attorney will provide what a patient care advocate cannot, and will do everything possible to maximize the compensation you recover.
4. How much will it cost to hire a cerebral palsy lawyer?
Medical bills add up quickly after a cerebral palsy diagnosis. Worse, if you cannot go back to work, you may have a hard time paying even your normal bills. Hiring a lawyer on top of those challenges may leave you wondering how you will possibly manage your finances.
At Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA we start with a free consultation concerning your child’s case to determine your options. We accept our clients on a contingency-fee basis, which means you pay nothing upfront for our legal services, but instead only pay out of whatever settlement or court award we recover on your behalf. In this way, we make seeking justice and compensation for your child’s cerebral palsy affordable.
5. Do I have to do my own research to determine whether my family has grounds for a cerebral palsy lawsuit?
If you contact Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA we can take care of all the research and investigation necessary to determine the viability of your claim, from looking into your child’s records to investigating the hospital where you gave birth or the doctor who oversaw the birth, to legal research. You can leave these matters in our capable hands while you focus on your child’s therapies and treatment.
6. How long does it take to settle a cerebral palsy claim?
The length of time to settle a cerebral palsy claim will depend on:
- How long does it take to investigate your claim? Your attorney will start by looking through your child’s medical records and any other evidence you can bring in, including your own account of what you can remember of the birth. If you had a complicated birth, especially one that involved multiple complications, it may take longer to fully evaluate your medical records. Your attorney may also need time to investigate the hospital where you gave birth and the doctor who oversaw the birth. An attorney may note multiple instances of the doctor failing to respond promptly to women in distress, or find that your nurse had a higher percentage of deliveries that result in cerebral palsy for the infant. Clear evidence of multiple problems could serve as evidence of negligence on the part of the care provider and could make it easier and quicker to build your case.
- How many rounds of negotiation do you need to go through? Most often, the doctor or facility’s medical malpractice insurance provider will take responsibility for paying out a settlement for your child’s injuries. The insurance company will negotiate the compensation it pays out. In some cases, you may need to go through numerous rounds of negotiation before arriving at an agreement that works for both you and the insurance company. The more rounds of negotiation you need to go through, the longer it may take for you to receive that settlement.
- Do you have to go to court? If you do have to go to court to settle your cerebral palsy claim, it can take longer to reach an agreement. The parties will need to go through discovery and any pre-trial motions and procedures, and you will need to wait for a court date, at which your attorney will present your case. Often, a judge will take a matter under review, rather than issuing a ruling at the hearing. And, even if you win and establish the defendant’s liability, a further hearing on damages may need to take place. Because of this, it is often in both parties’ interests to settle without having to carry out the case through a final trial.
7. Who can I sue if my child suffered cerebral palsy because of a birth injury?
You took your child home from the hospital with a clean bill of health and no challenges during the birth itself. Then, within the first few weeks of your child’s life, catastrophe strikes: your child suffers a head injury due to negligence on the part of a caregiver.
You can seek compensation for a cerebral palsy diagnosis any time someone else’s negligence causes that problem, whether your child suffers brain damage after getting dropped or due to a falling object. To establish grounds for compensation, your attorney will need to establish that the liable party had a caregiver relationship with the child and/or bore an obvious duty of care to the child, and that the liable party violated that duty of care in some way, resulting in your child’s injuries.
Some entities may carry insurance that will help provide the financial protection you need. For example, daycare providers often have insurance that will protect them against caregiver errors. However, other caregivers, including friends or family members, might not have insurance policies. Contact Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA to learn more about whether you may have grounds for a claim in your child’s cerebral palsy case.
8. What should I do if I suspect negligence during birth could have caused brain damage?
If you suspect negligence during childbirth, document your suspicions and observations as soon as possible. Make note of any signs of lack of care from your doctor or nurse. You may want to request copies of your medical records or ask that your child receive tests to check for brain damage, especially if your child has obvious signs of distress, such as a low APGAR score or poor blood gases immediately after birth.
Once your child shows signs of cerebral palsy, which can occur as soon as a few months after birth, you should consult with a doctor for a full diagnosis and follow all care instructions. Finally, get in touch with a lawyer as soon as possible to learn more about your family’s rights.
Did Your Child Incur Cerebral Palsy Due to a Physician’s Negligence? Our Lawyers Can Help You
If a physician’s negligence during the birth process led to your child’s cerebral palsy, you may have grounds for a claim that can help provide your family with financial support as you navigate the challenges associated with raising a child with cerebral palsy. Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers can help ensure that you understand the compensation you deserve and, in many cases, go to bat for you to help you obtain that compensation. Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss the specifics of your case.
Dealing with the aftermath of a cerebral palsy diagnosis can leave your family feeling overwhelmed. An attorney cannot relieve many of the burdens that come with caring for a child with cerebral policy, but they can help you navigate your claim so that you can obtain the compensation you need to take care of your child. By working with an attorney, you will receive several key advantages.
We can help investigate your child’s birth to determine if negligence contributed to their cerebral palsy.
An experienced birth injury attorney can look over your child’s medical records and identify any evidence that negligence during the birth contributed to your child’s cerebral palsy. For example, the birth injury attorney might note problems like a distinct drop in fetal heart rate or obvious evidence of distress, or might evaluate blood gas results to better determine any loss of oxygen during or immediately after birth.
We can help identify the party that caused your child’s cerebral palsy.
Medical records can also show whose negligence caused the condition. Did a nurse fail to properly identify a potential problem and notify the doctor on call? Did the doctor ignore signs of distress, fail to take you back for a C-section, or institute medical interventions that ultimately caused more harm than benefit? An attorney can locate the party that caused your child’s injuries based on that data.
We can help you understand the compensation your family deserves.
Your family may face immense expenses in dealing with your child’s cerebral palsy diagnosis. Unfortunately, many families do not realize they deserve compensation, or how much they are entitled to demand, which may lead them to accept low settlement offers that do not reflect their real financial needs.
Without a full understanding of both how much a cerebral palsy diagnosis can cost and how much compensation you can demand under the law, you might find you run out of funds you need to pay for your child’s medical needs, modify your home to accommodate their physical limitations, or allow one parent to stay home and focus on your child’s care. A personal injury attorney, on the other hand, can go over your case and help determine how much you deserve.