One of the most severe disabilities that can arise from birth injuries is cerebral palsy. This generally involves damage to various areas of the brain that may affect motor, sensory, and cognitive functions. Doctors have not found a cure for cerebral palsy, so a child may suffer from permanent limitations that affect many areas of their life. However, they may be able to stabilize their condition and improve their quality of life by undergoing treatments such as physical, occupational, and speech therapy, sometimes combined with medications. Some children may need assistive devices such as leg braces or wheelchairs. Doctors may recommend surgery for certain types of disabilities arising from cerebral palsy, although this will not resolve the condition entirely.
Improper use of assistive devices during delivery, such as forceps or vacuum extractors
The type of cerebral palsy and its associated symptoms depend on the area of the brain that is damaged and the functions that it controls. In some cases, a child suffers from more than one form of cerebral palsy because multiple areas have been damaged. This is known as mixed cerebral palsy.
Spastic Cerebral Palsy
The most common type of cerebral palsy is spastic cerebral palsy, which is caused by damage to the motor cortex or the pyramidal tracts in the brain. If the damage affects the motor cortex, a child may develop problems with their movement, while damage to the pyramidal tracts may undermine their sensory functions. Spastic cerebral palsy usually involves stiffness and tension in muscles and joints, which may cause jerky or unnatural movements. This may be limited to the legs, or it may affect one side of the body. In some severe cases, the disorder may affect not only the limbs but also the torso and face.
Athetoid (Dyskinetic) Cerebral Palsy
Children with athetoid cerebral palsy (also known as dyskinetic cerebral palsy) have suffered harm to the basal ganglia or the cerebellum. While the basal ganglia affect voluntary movement and often learning skills, the cerebellum affects balance, coordination, and often communication. A child cannot control their muscle tone and may experience alternations between hypertonia and hypotonia. While hypertonia involves stiffness caused by abnormally high muscle tone, hypotonia involves floppiness caused by abnormally low muscle tone. Children may struggle to sit up, roll over, walk, and reach for or grasp objects.
Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
An injury to the cerebellum may result in ataxic cerebral palsy, which can cause problems with balance, fine motor skills, and mobility. A child may not be able to perform repetitive motions or hold small objects. They may walk in a wobbly way or with their feet spread unnaturally far apart. In addition to the primary symptoms affecting the limbs, a child with ataxic cerebral palsy may suffer from vision and speech problems. They may have trouble communicating with other people, and they may develop dysphagia or other conditions that affect swallowing.
Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy
Like ataxic cerebral palsy, hypotonic cerebral palsy usually arises from damage to the cerebellum. This disorder causes low muscle tone in a child, which may undermine their ability to sit up, crawl, or walk. Symptoms involving the limbs may include highly flexible muscles and joints, as well as problems with balance and coordination. Symptoms elsewhere in the body that may indicate hypotonic cerebral palsy include problems with swallowing, chewing, or speaking.
Compensation for Cerebral Palsy
Unfortunately, a majority of cerebral palsy cases arise from medical malpractice by a health care provider who assisted with pregnancy or childbirth. When this happens, a family can pursue compensation for the costs related to treating this condition, which are often substantial. They can receive reimbursement not only for costs that have been incurred already but also for reasonably likely future costs. Damages in these cases also may cover non-economic forms of harm, such as the pain and suffering of a child.
Proving liability in a medical malpractice claim involves showing that a health care provider did not meet the applicable standard of care under the circumstances, causing cerebral palsy. Medical experts usually will need to explain the professional standard of care, as well as the actions that deviated from it. Parents should consult an experienced birth injury lawyer as soon as possible to discuss their next steps. These attorneys usually offer free consultations and take cases on a contingency fee basis, which means that they are paid as a percentage of the compensation obtained for a client.