What Is Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy can have a variety of severe effects on motor skills, mobility, and more. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, as many as four children for every 1,000 born in the United States have cerebral palsy, or CP.

From a medical perspective, cerebral palsy occurs as a result of damage to a baby’s brain either before or during birth, or in the first month of life. A significant number of cases of cerebral palsy are the result of birth injuries stemming from medical errors during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. 

Signs of cerebral palsy may not be apparent for months after the birth of your child. If you are concerned about CP, it is important to talk to your doctor. In the event that your child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy and you suspect it is the result of medical negligence, contact Ventura Law to explore your legal options.

What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

Cerebral palsy can result from either abnormal brain development or damage to the brain during its developmental stages. As explained by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), “This damage can occur before, during, or shortly after birth.”

More specifically, factors that can lead to a child being born with cerebral palsy include:

  • Damage to the white matter of the brain
  • Interruption of the normal process of brain growth
  • Bleeding in the brain resulting in fetal stroke
  • Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE)
  • Infections, fevers, trauma, and other medical events that impair proper development of the nervous system

Sometimes injury or infection that impacts the brain happens after the child is born. However, the majority of cases stem from when the child was in the womb or during delivery.

Are There Specific Risk Factors for Cerebral Palsy?

Yes. NINDS and other medical research organizations have identified several risk factors that increase the chances of a child being born with cerebral palsy. Examples of these risk factors include:

  • Low birthweight
  • Premature birth
  • Giving birth to multiples (i.e., twins or triplets)
  • Infections (fetal or maternal)
  • Maternal exposure to methyl mercury and other toxins
  • Breech birth
  • Complications during labor and delivery

Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals have a responsibility to monitor mother and baby for complications and take steps to ensure their safety. Failure to do so may constitute medical malpractice.

Are There Different Kinds of Cerebral Palsy?

Yes. There are four primary types of cerebral palsy, each of which is distinguished by the type of impact that it has on the child’s ability to control his or her own bodily movements. The four primary types of cerebral palsy are:

  • Spastic cerebral palsy – Characterized by stiff and awkward movements
  • Athetoid cerebral palsy – Characterized by slow and uncontrollable writhing movements
  • Ataxic cerebral palsy – Characterized by unsteadiness and poor coordination
  • Mixed cerebral palsy – Characterized by symptoms of two or more of the types of cerebral palsy listed above

Cerebral palsy can affect one or both sides of the body.

What Are the Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy?

Symptoms of cerebral palsy vary depending on the severity of a child’s developmental impairment or brain damage. Changes in muscle tone are one of the hallmarks of CP; the muscles may vary from tensed and stiff to floppy.

Parents also may notice signs of CP if their child doesn’t meet or struggles with key developmental milestones:

  • Difficulty holding up head
  • Only extending one hand
  • Trouble rolling over independently
  • Scooting without progression to crawling
  • Favoring one side of the body over another when crawling
  • Difficulty walking
  • Delayed or difficult speech

Children with CP often struggle with significant deficits throughout their lives. They may also suffer from seizures, intellectual and learning disabilities, and other neurological issues.

How Can Medical Errors Cause Cerebral Palsy?

There are a number of ways that medical negligence can cause cerebral palsy. Lapses in prenatal care can increase the risk of maternal infections and other complications that can lead to developmental abnormalities. Errors on the part of staff involved in labor and delivery can cause brain damage that may result in cerebral palsy.

Some of the most common examples of medical negligence that can lead to cerebral palsy include:

  • Failure to appropriately address the risk factors associated with low birthweight, premature delivery, etc.
  • Failure to diagnose and treat maternal or fetal infections
  • Failure to detect other health risks that can result in a reduced oxygen supply to the fetus’s brain
  • Failure to adequately monitor the fetus’s oxygen supply and overall health during labor and delivery
  • Failure to diagnose and address signs of fetal distress and/or perform an emergency cesarean section (c-section)
  • Improper use of forceps or a vacuum extractor
  • Medication errors, including providing the mother with a medication that is dangerous to her or her child, administering an incorrect dosage, and failing to monitor the mother and fetus when administering anesthesia

This list is not exhaustive. Any type of medical error that impacts a fetus’s or young child’s brain development can potentially lead to cerebral palsy and other complications. As a result, if your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, we would strongly encourage you to speak with a medical malpractice lawyer to find out if your family may be entitled to financial compensation.

Discuss Your Family’s Legal Rights with a Birth Injury Lawyer

If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and you would like to speak with a lawyer about your family’s legal rights, we invite you to contact Ventura Law for a free, no-obligation consultation.

Please call (203) 800-8000 or contact us online today. We serve clients in Danbury, Bridgeport, Hartford, Norwalk, and nearby areas of Connecticut, as well as neighboring communities in New York.