Advocating for Cerebral Palsy Victims, New Jersey

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Cerebral palsy is a term used to describe a group of neurological chronic disorders affecting body movements and muscle coordination. It is caused by damage to the brain. "Cerebral" refers to the brain and "palsy" to a disorder of movement or posture. Children with cerebral palsy may not be able to walk, talk, eat or play in the same ways as most other children.

Notably, cerebral palsy is also caused by events that occur shortly before, during and after birth. In many cases, cerebral palsy resulting from the cutoff of blood supply to the brain is medically preventable and was caused by negligence on the part of obstetricians, nurses or other medical care providers. Our NJ birth injury lawyers at Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow, LLP, regularly represent parents of babies born with cerebral palsy resulting from physician negligence or mistakes made in the delivery room.

Recognized Among the Pre-Eminent New Jersey Medical Malpractice Lawyers

We are familiar with the medically complex, but frequently frivolous, defenses used by defendant physicians, their insurance companies and their attorneys. We are proud of our record of protecting the rights of families impacted by babies born with cerebral palsy that could have been prevented by competent medical care. Our case history includes individual cases in which we have recovered more than $10 million on behalf of our clients — compensation the families will need for a lifetime of special care required by the children and to keep these children safe throughout their lifetime.

Symptoms and Types of Cerebral Palsy

Symptoms of cerebral palsy often surface during the newborn period. In those cases, parents are typically aware of the disorder because the baby requires intensive medical care such as breathing and feeding assistance. Further indicators of cerebral palsy include difficulty eating, holding one’s head upright, and maintaining posture. Milder forms of cerebral palsy may present as simply a developmental delay.

Doctors will check babies’ reflexes and motor skills, birth records, and parents’ medical history to diagnose cerebral palsy. Symptoms of cerebral palsy include speech impediments, abnormal sensation and perception, vision, hearing, breathing and bladder control problems, and learning disabilities. Three of the most common types of cerebral palsy are:

  • Spastic Cerebral Palsy: This type accounts for about 80 percent of all cerebral palsy cases, making it the most common type of cerebral palsy. It causes permanently contracted and stiff muscles. Motor function is reduced and patients experience difficulties moving from one position to another and holding and releasing objects.
  • Athetoid Cerebral Palsy: Approximately 10 percent of cerebral palsy cases are athetoid cerebral palsy, which causes hypotonia–low muscle tone, involuntary movement, impaired posture, slurred speech, and difficulty swallowing.
  • Ataxic Cerebral Palsy: This type also accounts for about 10 percent of cerebral palsy cases. Those suffering from ataxic cerebral palsy may have trouble balancing and making coordinated muscle movements, tremors, and difficulty with depth perception.

There are several known causes of cerebral palsy, including infectious diseases, such as bacterial meningitis or viral encephalitis, that attack the brain, and also brain trauma from accidents where a head injury was sustained. Cerebral palsy is frequently caused when obstetricians and/or nurses fail to properly monitor the well-being of the fetus during a mother's labor and delivery. They may fail to recognize and/or treat fetal distress apparent on electronic fetal monitoring equipment. Such failures are departures from the standard of care and could result in hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) a lack of oxygen to the baby's brain during the labor, often referred to as hypoxia. The term most often refers to a brain injury sustained by newborns, and babies with HIE will frequently have cerebral palsy.

What are the long-term complications from cerebral palsy?

For mild cases of CP, full scope of your child’s challenges may not become apparent until he or she reaches school age. In New Jersey public schools, a child with CP will likely be entitled to an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, which provides accommodations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Your child may need additional time to complete tests, or be assigned a note taker if he or she has issues with fine motor skills.

However, not all districts have the resources to provide the full accommodations, and that leaves parents with few options. You may have to send your child to a specialized private school, or bus your child out-of-district. You may opt to home-school your child. All of these options can be cost-prohibitive.

If your child has a more severe form of CP, however, the chances are good that you will need to provide for him or her forever. Your child may never be able to have a job or his or her own home. He or she may be unable to speak and communicate his or her needs.

There are also potential medical complications, including:

  • Seizure disorders
  • Blindness
  • Chronic pain from muscle weakness, stiffness, or spasticity
  • Sleep apnea or other sleep conditions
  • Risk of choking or aspirating on food
  • Risk of bedsores from lack of mobility

Filing a birth injury lawsuit may be the only chance you have at ensuring that your child is cared for over the duration of his or her life, and after you are gone.

Cerebral Palsy Caused by Medical Malpractice

Cerebral palsy often manifests due to a medical mistake during pregnancy or birth, such as the umbilical cord wrapping around the baby’s neck or the application of excessive pressure on the baby’s head or neck during delivery. Medical professionals may also fail to detect or treat the mother’s infections, correctly monitor fetal heart rate, detect a prolapsed umbilical cord, or perform a caesarean section in time. In cases wherein a medical professional fails to provide a standard of care, a medical malpractice lawsuit against the negligent doctor or hospital can provide compensation for victims and accountability for those responsible.

Misdiagnosis of the Mother's Medical Condition During Pregnancy

Cerebral palsy may also be caused when medical care providers fail to timely diagnose and treat infectious diseases such as meningitis or jaundice (hyperbilirubinemia). Delays in diagnosing and treating these conditions may result in brain damage and cerebral palsy, including conditions such as:

  • Hypoglycemia
  • Hypopituitarism
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Intracranial bleeding or hemorrhage
  • Meconium aspiration syndrome
  • Pulmonary hypotension

Causes of cerebral palsy

Brain malformations. If a baby’s brain develops abnormally during fetal development – especially prior to 20 weeks gestation – the baby runs a higher risk of brain damage, which can lead to cerebral palsy. Maternal high blood pressure or infections can also lead to abnormal brain development or brain damage while an infant is still in utero.  It’s extremely important mothers receive regular prenatal care and medical monitoring while pregnant.

Jaundice. Caused by bilirubin buildup in the blood during the first few days or weeks after birth, some jaundice cases clear up on their own or with some treatment. However, if the bilirubin levels are too high and left untreated, a type of brain damage called kernicterus can occur that can lead to cerebral palsy.

Prolonged labor. Prolonged labor is defined as labor that lasts longer than about 18 hours. Many birth complications can occur from prolonged labor, including cerebral palsy, due to deprivation of oxygen. These can include breech births, the baby getting stuck in the birth canal, complications with the umbilical cord, or medical negligence regarding forceps or delayed C-section.

Hemorrhaging. Bleeding in the brain is a hidden risk amongst premature babies and can result after a problem with blood flow or reduced oxygen to the brain. Because this is a hidden birth injury, however, it may not be until symptoms are visible that a proper diagnosis is possible.

Medical negligence. The true tragedy is when your child’s CP was caused by medical negligence – meaning it could have been prevented. Your doctor’s job is to find and diagnose medical problems during your pregnancy to avoid birth injuries. When these are ignored or misdiagnosed, your infant can suffer brain damage before, during, or after childbirth.

Common medical mistakes that can lead to cerebral palsy include:

  • Failure to perform an emergency C-section
  • Failure to properly monitor infant’s heartbeat
  • Failure to detect or treat maternal infections
  • Failure to monitor oxygen levels
  • Failure to provide oxygen to infant in time
  • Failure to identify or treat umbilical cord or placenta issues
  • Improper use of forceps or vacuum extraction tools during childbirth
  • Errors in surgery or anesthesia

Contact the Experienced New Jersey Birth Injury Lawyers at Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow, LLP

From offices in Edison, Red Bank and Toms River, our New Jersey medical malpractice lawyers advise and represent clients in medical malpractice and personal injury litigation matters throughout New Jersey. From wherever you are, call our office at 732-777-0100 or contact us online to arrange a free consultation with an experienced NJ med mal lawyer at an office nearest to you.