My firm handles birth injury malpractice cases. We have cases all over the country. Cerebral palsy is one of the most serious types of injuries we see in these cases. If you are a birth injury lawyer and you do not get emotionally invested in cerebral palsy cases, you do not have a pulse. Even defense lawyers who would shoot a puppy to get some minuscule evidentiary advantage at trial, usually have great empathy for the child and the family even if we disagree about why the injury occurred.
Cerebral palsy is a permanent physical and often cognitive disability in which the brain cannot control parts of the body. Cerebral palsy is not a disease. It is a static injury to the brain that occurs during childbirth or pregnancy. It is a non-progressive motor impairment that does not get better or worse over time. (Although some children who are diagnosed with cerebral palsy have seen that diagnosis change before age 5.)
This injury to the brain that results in cerebral palsy is because of negligent care in the delivery room cerebral palsy gives rise to a large volume of birth injury malpractice lawsuits which can generate very large verdicts and settlements.
What Causes Cerebral Palsy?
The underlying cause of cerebral palsy is damage to the developing brain of a baby during pregnancy or childbirth. This damage to a baby’s developing brain is triggered by a loss of oxygen. The loss of oxygen at any time is a grave risk. But childbirth compounds that risk. Cells in the brain require a constant supply of oxygen and even a temporary interruption can cause permanent cellular damage that can change a child’s life forever.
When hypoxic brain cell damage occurs during birth or pregnancy, the baby may be born with a defect or glitch in their brain. This glitch occurs in the parts of the brain that control and coordinate voluntary movements of muscles in the body. The result is that the child cannot use her brain to move certain parts of their body normally.
All voluntary body movements are triggered by electrical impulse signals transmitted from the brain to the muscles along neuro pathways. With cerebral palsy, these electrical signals from the brain are scrambled or distorted because of the defect in the child’s brain. The result is disabling muscle rigidity or stiffness that prevents legs or arms from moving normally. With severe cases of cerebral palsy, the child may be unable to walk and require medical assistance for the rest of their life.
Why Is Cerebral Palsy Often Linked to Medical Malpractice?
Cerebral palsy generates a lot of malpractice lawsuits against OB/GYNs and hospitals. These also tend to be very high-value cases resulting in multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements.
One of the primary factors that continues to fuel cerebral palsy litigation is the simple fact that a certain percentage of cerebral palsy cases are preventable. Many cerebral palsy cases are the result of prolonged oxygen deprivation during labor and delivery causing damage to the baby’s brain. In a modern hospital delivery room, this type of injury during childbirth can often be prevented with proper monitoring and medical care.
In a typical hospital delivery setting, doctors can deliver a baby by emergency C-section in a matter of minutes. The proper use of electronic fetal monitoring equipment also gives them advanced warning when the baby may be losing oxygen. Together, these tools give doctors the ability to prevent brain damage from oxygen loss by performing an emergency C-section at the first sign of fetal distress.
Unfortunately, this is not how things work out in many deliveries. Instead of performing an immediate C-section at the first signs of potential danger, doctors dismiss (or misinterpret) fetal monitoring strip warnings. They wait until it is too late. This invariably opens the door to second-guessing and malpractice lawsuits by outraged and heart-broken parents.
Why Are Cerebral Palsy Verdicts and Settlements So Big?
Cerebral palsy lawsuits generate some of the highest average settlement and verdict amounts both in Maryland and across the country. There are several reasons for this. The most significant reason for the high value of these claims is the impact that cerebral palsy has on a child’s life.
Cerebral palsy is a permanent condition that cannot be cured or fixed. Most children born with moderate-to-severe cerebral palsy cannot walk independently and some may be confined to a wheelchair for their entire life. Many children with cerebral palsy will also have cognitive disabilities to go along with their physical impairments. With the most severe types of cerebral palsy, a child may require professional medical assistance for the remainder of their life.
The emotional and financial costs of cerebral palsy can be massive. Therapy, medical treatments, support services, mobility devices, and other requirements can be extremely expensive. Future medical expense damages in a typical cerebral palsy case can be huge, often in the millions.
Cerebral palsy verdicts are getting even larger because the interest rates are so low. Future costs are marked down to the present value of the money today. A lower discount rate leads to higher less present-day value reductions that have really increased the value of birth injury cases in the last 10 years.
Cerebral Palsy Verdicts & Settlements
Listed below are some recent verdicts and settlements from cerebral palsy cases across the country.
- AA Pro Ami v. Burdock (Illinois 2018) $35 million: Malpractice lawsuit on behalf of infant alleges that doctors and hospital staff failed to properly monitor fetal heart rate and failed to respond to signs of fetal distress in the form of rapid heart rate deceleration during labor. The baby suffers brain damage due to lack of oxygen and is diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy. The cerebral palsy leaves her unable to walk independently and with cognitive delays. The case is eventually settled for $35 million.
- West v. Gerson (Pennsylvania 2018) $3.5 million: Plaintiff is 32 weeks pregnant with twins when she goes to the hospital after her water breaks prematurely. Doctors allegedly ignore various indications from the fetal monitoring devices that one of the twins is in danger. They do not order an emergency C-section until the fetal heart rate drops all the way down to 60. By the time the twins are delivered, it is too late. The second twin suffers severe hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy resulting in significant brain damage. She is eventually diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The parties enter into a high/low arbitration agreement under which the plaintiffs recovered damages of $3,500,000.
- Szymanik v. Holy Redeemer Hosp. (Pennsylvania 2017) $2 million: Baby suffers hypoxic brain damage during childbirth when the umbilical cord becomes compressed. This causes the supply of oxygen to the baby to be cut off for nearly 12 minutes. The brain injury leaves the baby with spastic cerebral palsy and cognitive delays. Parents sue doctors and hospital for malpractice claiming that they that were negligent in failing to perform a prompt emergency c-section. The case settles before trial for $2 million.
- CP Pro Ami v. Atlanticare (New Jersey 2017) $6.8 million: Mother is in the 2nd stage of labor when fetal heart tracings began to show deep variable decelerations. In response, the doctor spends approximately 40 minutes attempting to deliver the baby vaginally before an alarmed nurse calls the obstetrics department chairperson at the hospital to report extreme fetal distress. At that point, an emergency C-section is performed. During the delay, the baby suffers a brain injury from lack of oxygen and is diagnosed with mixed-type cerebral palsy. The malpractice claims allege that the doctor should have immediately performed an emergency C-section in response to the initial signs of fetal distress. The parties agreed to mediation which results in a settlement for $6.8 million.
- Kwak v. Sunrise Mountainview Hosp. (Nevada 2017) $12.5 million: A prolonged period of pushing allegedly results in a uterine rupture and an emergency C-section is ordered. Unfortunately, the emergency C-section is not performed until 21 minutes after the rupture. The baby is not breathing and has to be resuscitated. The baby suffers significant brain damage from oxygen loss. She is diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy leaving her unable to walk. The jury awards $12.5 million in damages.
Contact Miller & Zois About Cerebral Palsy Malpractice
If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, it may be the result of negligent care during labor and delivery. If you need legal advice, we can help. The birth injury lawyers at Miller & Zois can help investigate your case and determine whether you have a valid claim for malpractice. Call me at 800-553-8082 or get a free-line consultation.
Cerebral Palsy Literature
- Reid, Susan, et. al: Survival of Individuals with Cerebral Palsy born in Victoria, Australia, Between 1970 and 2004. Dev Med & Child Neurology 2012.
- Fennel, Eileen, et al: Cognitive and neuropsychological functioning of children with cerebral palsy. J Child Neurol. 2001; 16(1);58-63.
- Albright, Leland: Spasticity and movement disorders in cerebral palsy. J Child Neurol. 1996; 11 Supp 1:S1-S4.