When a child is born with a disease or condition, such as cerebral palsy, it can be difficult for parents. While a diagnosis of cerebral palsy will not change the love most parents have for their children, it is still entirely understandable to want answers, especially if the child’s injury might have been caused by someone’s negligence. Understanding the nature of what cerebral palsy is and its related symptoms may be a good first step to determining if it was caused by the negligence of a medical provider.
Causes of Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a generic term for a set of nerve and muscle problems that occur in young children and do not improve with time. Some cases may also involve cognition issues and epilepsy, but this is not required for an accurate diagnosis. While causes and signs will vary, there is a core group of symptoms that generally appear in most cases. These symptoms include:
- Impairment of muscle tone. This can result in spasticity (stiff muscles and exaggerated reflexes), or general rigidity. Generally, any abnormal posture can occur with CP.
- Delays in reaching childhood milestones like standing, walking, and crawling.
- Difficulty with tasks that involve using the mouth, such as sucking or eating.
- Delays in speech and cognition.
- Problems with fine motor skills, such as picking up a pencil.
Neurological issues that can crop up, but do not always, include seizures, intellectual disability, problems with vision or hearing, and unusual perceptions of pain (that is, feeling either too much or too little pain).
There are three main subgroups of CP that occur most commonly. The first, spastic CP, is by far the most common, accounting for approximately 80% of cases in the U.S. as of the most recent data available. Spastic CP results in difficulty moving around, holding and letting go of things, and may involve epilepsy or other types of seizures. The second is athetoid or dyskinetic CP, which is primarily characterized by cranial issues – drooling, difficulty swallowing, slurred speech and involuntary movements. The third, the most severe (but also the rarest), is ataxic CP, which appears more as neurological problems. Depth perception, tremors, and balance are most commonly affected by ataxic CP.
The exact cause of cerebral palsy is largely unknown. Research points to a genetic cause in a small percentage of cases, but most are believed to occur due to trauma to fine motor centers either in utero or during birth. Approximately 1 in 764,000 people in the United States have some form of CP, with almost 500,000 of that number under the age of 18.
Birth Trauma Leads to Cerebral Palsy
Sometimes Cerebral Palsy simply occurs, with no malpractice present. However, birth trauma does account for a significant percentage of cerebral palsy cases. Some of the most common reasons for a later diagnosis of cerebral palsy fall under the rubric of failure to diagnose, such as failure to discover a prolapsed umbilical cord, while others are characterized simply as medical mistakes.
Failure to diagnose is not always grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit, but it can be if the underlying condition is one that any trained medical professional should be able to detect. Missing a diagnosis that would be elementary for most professionals goes toward an accusation of not meeting the prevailing standard of care – of failing to treat a patient as well as other medical professionals would.
Medical mistakes are a somewhat different picture. This category would include factors such as not ordering a timely cesarean section, if the child is in distress. Medical mistakes go toward imputing negligence to the attending physician or nurse (or midwife, in some states, though they are regulated differently than M.D.s), and proving negligence is a critical component in winning a medical malpractice suit.
Contact An Attorney for Answers
An injury to a child is always difficult to deal with, and if it was caused by another’s negligence, it can be even harder. The attorneys at Meinhart, Smith & Manning, PLLC have years of experience in these kinds of cases, and we work hard to get our clients their due compensation. Contact our Louisville office today for a free consultation.
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