Birth injuries are a common and sometimes avoidable cause of cerebral palsy. Roughly 4,500 children each year are diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a group of disorders characterized by the brain’s inability to control the body. Most children with cerebral palsy are born with the disorder, even if it is not detected for months or years.
While a fever during maternity sometimes triggers abnormal brain development, the delivery process also poses cerebral palsy risks. If a baby is stuck in the birth canal with no oxygen supply or a baby is born more than 24 hours after the mother’s water broke, the child could have lasting brain damage.
The most common symptoms of palsy appear in children under three as they are beginning to move and learn motor skills. Symptoms include: inadequate muscle coordination, stiff muscles and exaggerated reflex responses, awkward gait or walking with one foot dragging, and weak muscle tone.
Doctors can run reflex tests and other motor skills tests, as well as check posture and muscle development, to more accurately diagnose cerebral palsy. CT scans and MRIs can also detect some cases of cerebral palsy disorders.
While cerebral palsy can’t be cured, treatments can help improve a child’s condition. Possible treatments include physical, occupational and speech therapy; medications; surgery; and braces or other assistive devices. These treatments can be costly. If doctors and hospital staff are to blame for a birth injury that caused cerebral palsy, parents may be able to seek damages to cover past and future treatments for the disorder.
In Illinois, parents have until up to two years after the child’s eighteenth birthday to sue for medical malpractice stemming from a birth injury and possibly longer if the child is considered disabled. For example, an Illinois hospital and doctor recently agreed to settle a medical malpractice claim for $9.5 million. The hospital was accused of negligence in allowing a boy, who is now 14, to be deprived of oxygen for 15 minutes during birth. Many birth injury cases can be difficult to prove so parents may want to seek legal advice about their options as soon as they receive a definitive diagnosis of cerebral palsy.