CEREBRAL PALSY AND MEDICAL MALPRACTICE
A SUMMARY OVERVIEW

 What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a physical disability. It is not a disease, but instead a condition. It occurs due to injury to the brain during, before, or after birth. The brain controls all that we do, and different parts of the brain control the movement of every muscle of the body. In cerebral palsy, there is damage to, or lack of development in, one or more of these areas of the brain. "Cerebral" refers to the brain and "palsy" to the lack of motor control. Cerebral palsy is not progressive, communicable, or a primary cause of death. It is not curable in the accepted sense, although a person with cerebral palsy often responds to therapy and training.

What are some of the symptoms or deficits of cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy affects people very differently depending upon on where and how much damage was done to the brain. Some of the problems associated with cerebral palsy are: poor muscle control; lack of coordination; muscle weakness; awkwardness or clumsiness; impairments in speech, hearing, and vision; seizures; muscle spasms; balance problems, swallowing problems; and inability to control elimination functions.

How can there be medical malpractice related to a cerebral palsy victim?

Cerebral palsy can occur because of improper or negligent medical care, but it can also occur for reasons unrelated to medical care. Oxygen deprivation or damage to the brain’s cerebral cortex can cause brain damage and cerebral palsy. Some examples of how cerebral palsy might have resulted from improper medical care include:

  • Failure to recognize and treat high risk pregnancy or labor/delivery.
  • Failure to have an obstetrician and/or pediatrician or neonatologist involved in a high risk pregnancy or labor/delivery.
  • Failure to prevent, recognize, or treat infection.
  • Inappropriate use of Pitocin, a labor stimulation drug, and/or failing to properly administer and/or monitor the effects of it during labor. Some potential contraindications for induction therapy include abnormal fetal position or presentation, cephalopelvic disproportion, previous uterine scars, and/or a history of previous traumatic delivery.
  • Failure to adequately monitor and interpret the heart tones of the fetus and the contractions of the mother, and failure to intervene when these signs demonstrate dangerous conditions to the mother or fetus.
  • Failure to provide in-labor resuscitative measures, such as positioning of the mother and/or the administration of oxygen, when necessary.
  • Failure to timely prepare for and perform a Cesarean section if circumstances require because a vaginal delivery would be hazardous to either the mother or the baby. Some of the circumstances that may require a Cesarean section might be: cephalopelvic disproportion; prolonged or arrested labor; uterine or placental dysfunction; obstruction of the birth canal; if the baby is particularly large or in a transverse or breech presentation; and fetal distress, such as abnormalities in heartbeat, post-term pregnancies, presentation of a compressed, prolapsed, or otherwise compromised cord, or other indications that the fetus’s oxygen supply is in jeopardy.
  • Performing a protracted forceps delivery of a breech position infant.
  • Improper use of vacuum extractor or forceps during delivery.
  • Excessively aggressive manual rotation and/or application of fundal pressure.
  • Failure to properly treat an infant’s respiratory distress after birth.
  • Failure to properly manage neonatal fevers after birth.
  • Failure to perform a timely exchange transfusion after birth because of blood incompatibilities.
  • Failure to admit an infant with a high temperature to the hospital.
  • Failure to be aware of, and correct, obstetrical anesthesia problems.
  • Failure to treat significant jaundice in newborn infants with phototherapy and special types of blood transfusion.
  • Failure to recognize and respond to labor/delivery emergencies, such as placenta abruptia or ruptured uterus.
  • Failure to recognize and treat the mother's high blood pressure, preeclampsia, eclampsia, toxemia, diabetes, problems with her thyroid, or other conditions.

 

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