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New York Personal Injury Attorneys

Cerebral Palsy Caused During Birth: Is It Medical Malpractice?

October 26, 2021 in

Cerebral palsy, or CP, is a group of disorders that affect movement, muscle tone and/or posture. While not every case of CP is due to a mistake on behalf of the doctor during birth, sometimes medical negligence can be directly related to CP in some newborns. 


If you or your child experienced complications during birth that ultimately led to a CP diagnosis, it is important to fully examine the events leading up to the diagnosis to confirm whether or not negligence played a role. If negligence did occur, you may be entitled to financial compensation. 


Overview of Cerebral Palsy 


CP is caused by damage that occurs to the immature brain as it develops. This damage can happen before, during, or shortly after birth as well as within the first few years of life when the brain is still developing. CP is the most common motor disability in children. 


Causes of Cerebral Palsy


Due to the profuse span of time that damage to a developing brain can occur, the exact cause of CP is often unknown. A majority of individuals with CP were born with the condition, a situation called congenital cerebral palsy. 


Causes of CP that occur before birth include: 


Damage to the White Matter of the Brain

White matter of the brain sends signals throughout the brain and the rest of the body. Damage to white matter can disrupt signals between the brain and body that control movement. White matter is most sensitive to injury between 26 and 34 weeks of pregnancy, but damage can happen at any point during pregnancy. 


Abnormal Brain Development 

Disruptions in the normal growth process of the brain can lead to abnormalities. These abnormalities affect transmission of brain signals. Infection, fever, trauma, or genetic mutations can cause the brain to develop abnormally.


Bleeding in the Brain

Strokes can occur in fetuses, which can cause brain bleeding. Strokes occur when the brain’s blood vessels become blocked or broken, leading to brain damage. Other conditions that can result in stroke include blood clotting problems, abnormally formed blood vessels, heart defects, and sickle cell disease. 


Lack of Oxygen to the Brain

The brain can suffer damage if it does not get enough oxygen for a long period of time. Very low blood pressure in the mother, a torn uterus, detachment of the placenta, problems with the umbilical cord, or severe trauma to the infant’s head during labor and delivery can prevent oxygen from reaching the brain.


Additionally, trauma during the labor and delivery process can lead to injuries that result in CP. These include: 


Breech Position at the Start of Labor 

This is when an infant’s bottom or feet are facing down right before birth. This could lead to an infant being stuck in the birth canal, damage to the umbilical cord, and reduction of the infant’s oxygen supply. 


Insufficient Oxygen During Labor and Birth

This can be caused by problems with the umbilical cord or a ruptured uterus, which is when the uterus tears during labor.


Premature Birth

Premature births are classified as anytime an infant is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy.


Low Birthrate or Below Average Size for Gestational Age (GSA) 

A low birth weight, typically classified as a weight below 5 lbs 8 oz at birth, or an infant that is below average in size based on the number of weeks in the womb, could indicate developmental issues.


A small number of individuals are diagnosed with acquired cerebral palsy, which means the disorder begins more than 28 days after birth. Causes of acquired CP include brain damage, infections, stroke, and head injuries.


Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy


CP symptoms vary from person to person. A person with mild CP may experience difficulty walking or have impaired motor skills. Individuals with severe cases of CP may rely on braces, crutches, or a walker to walk. Some individuals with CP may not be able to walk at all and may have very limited motor skills. Often, these individuals require lifelong care. 


Many individuals with CP may also have conditions such as intellectual disabilities, seizures, problems with vision, hearing, or speech, changes in the spine (such as scoliosis) or joint problems (such as contractures). 


CP does not worsen over time, although the exact symptoms can change over a person’s lifetime. 


Medical Mistakes and Cerebral Palsy 


Sometimes, causes of CP can be linked to medical negligence. Medical negligence occurs when medical professionals do not meet the standard of care expected of them. In labor and delivery, this can result in complications to the birthing process, injury to the infant and/or injury to the mother. 


Medical negligence that results in a trauma to the infant during birth can cause CP. Examples of medical negligence during childbirth include:

  • Failure by a medical professional to act quickly in a dangerous situation, 
  • Failure to diagnose any apparent health conditions in the mother or baby, 
  • Failure to monitor the mother or baby after childbirth, 
  • Misuse of birthing tools such as forceps or vacuum extractor, or
  • Use of unnecessary force during childbirth.

Medical negligence can also occur before labor and delivery. A physician’s failure to monitor the health of the mother or fetus, diagnose illness, account for genetic changes, evaluate risk factors to either the mother or fetus, and/or alter either the mother or fetus’s treatment as needed can also be classified as medical negligence. 


Complications as a result of medical malpractice can result in long-term birth injuries such as CP. It is important to consult with an experienced legal team to help determine if medical negligence did in fact lead to a trauma that resulted in CP. A careful review of medical records is necessary to determine whether the actions of the delivery team played a part in causing CP. 


Consult a Medical Malpractice Attorney at Sullivan Papain Block McGrath Coffinas & Cannavo P.C. 


If your child suffered a birth injury resulting in cerebral palsy due to improper care during your pregnancy or at the time of delivery, you may be eligible to file a medical malpractice claim. The New York and New Jersey medical malpractice attorneys at Sullivan Papain Block McGrath Coffinas & Cannavo P.C. have years of experience representing clients in birth injury lawsuits. Call (212)-732-9000 to request a free consultation.

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