Horner Syndrome & Potential Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
Sometimes known as oculosympathetic palsy, Horner syndrome involves abnormal conditions along a nerve pathway on one side of the body that connects the brain to the face and the eye. While Horner syndrome can affect anyone at any age, it sometimes arises during childbirth. Rather than treating the syndrome, doctors usually focus on treating the underlying cause, to the extent possible.
Neurons Affected by Horner Syndrome
Horner syndrome may affect three different types of nerve cells, or neurons. First-order neurons connect the upper part of the spinal cord to the hypothalamus, while second-order neurons connect the spinal cord to the side of the neck. Third-order neurons extend across the neck to the face and may affect muscles around the eye and the eyelid.
Many Horner syndrome cases in infants result from birth trauma involving the neck and shoulders, such as brachial plexus injuries, shoulder dystocia, or the improper use of forceps or vacuum extractors to assist delivery. Risk factors for Horner syndrome also may include post-term delivery or fetal rotation. However, some infants may suffer from Horner syndrome due to conditions such as cancer or vascular defects, which may have been unavoidable.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Horner Syndrome
This condition is more challenging to diagnose than some types of birth injuries. A baby may not be diagnosed with Horner syndrome for a few months after their birth. If symptoms do not arise in the first five months of life, the condition will not be classified as congenital. Potential signs and symptoms of Horner syndrome may include dizziness, headaches, muscle weakness, and an absence of flushing or sweating in the affected area. Many other symptoms involve the eyes, such as:
Droopy upper eyelid or elevated lower eyelid
Small pupil or delayed dilation of the pupil
Sunken eye on one side
A different eye color or pupil size on the affected side
Since Horner syndrome often appears most noticeably around the eyes, a doctor may diagnose the condition after testing the pupils with eye drops. If the pupil in one eye responds less strongly to the eye drops, this may suggest Horner syndrome on that side. A doctor also may use imaging technology, such as MRIs, CT scans, X-rays, and ultrasounds.
Compensation for Medical Malpractice Causing Horner Syndrome
Unfortunately, errors by health care providers during labor and delivery often result in Horner syndrome. If a mother and her child do not receive appropriate care from a doctor, they may be liable for medical malpractice. This requires proving that the doctor failed to meet the professional standard of care in the situation, and this caused birth trauma that led to Horner syndrome. Medical malpractice cases usually rely on expert testimony from a doctor or another specialist familiar with the practice area of the defendant.
The Role of an Expert
An expert can explain what a competent doctor would have done during childbirth, as well as how the defendant deviated from the appropriate procedures. If a child sustains permanent harm from Horner syndrome, expert witnesses also can describe how its effects will extend across their life.
Since these cases tend to be sophisticated and fiercely contested, a family should not fight doctors and defense attorneys on their own. Some parents may worry about the cost of an attorney, but they likely will not need to pay any attorney fees until they get compensation. Birth injury lawyers usually collect their fees as a percentage of a settlement or verdict. They also offer free consultations to discuss the strength and value of a claim.