Top 10 questions: cerebral palsy and Medical Negligence
Birth is a normal and natural process for the majority of mothers and their babies. Unfortunately though, complications can occur during pregnancy and birth which can cause injuries. It is thankfully rare, but sometimes these injuries cause life long disabilities and conditions like Cerebral palsy, which can have an enormous impact for those affected and their families.
In some cases of cerebral palsy, no one can be blamed for the circumstances, and sadly, for others, Medical/Clinical Negligence is to blame.
1. What is cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy is a term used to describe a number of similar movement disorders, each caused by damage to or abnormal development of the brain.
The effects of cerebral palsy for each individual can vary considerably, both in nature and severity. There are broadly three types of the condition, although some people have a combination of two or all three:
- Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common, causing muscle weakness and difficulty with movement.
- Dyskinetic cerebral palsy (also known as dystonic, athetoid or choreoathetoid) creates loss of muscular coordination.
- Ataxic cerebral palsy affects the balance and coordination.
Unfortunately, Cerebral palsy has no cure. However, it is not a degenerative disease and, while symptoms may improve or get worse, the underlying condition remains the same throughout the person’s life.
2. Can cerebral palsy be caused by Medical Negligence?
There are many different causes of cerebral palsy. It may be caused by factors outside a doctor’s control, such as a genetic cause. Cerebral palsy can happen despite the best possible medical care, in which case there would be no case for Medical Negligence.
However, sometimes there are indications during pregnancy or labour that there may be a problem. If these are not recognised or dealt with appropriately, it’s possible that the care was negligent. During pregnancy, there could be signs that the baby is not growing as well as they should be. This may not be recognised, or a poor decision may be made about how best to deal with the situation.
Some pregnancies are seen as higher risk. Usually this is identified and the care provided takes those higher risks into account. It may be that additional monitoring is needed during pregnancy or labour, or perhaps the best option in the circumstances is choosing a Caesarean section rather than a natural birth. If these steps are not taken, it may be negligence.
During labour itself, both mother and baby should be monitored carefully for signs of a problem, such as changes in the baby’s heart rate. Thankfully, if these signs are recognised it is usually possible to take action or simply monitor more carefully, and keep both mother and baby safe. However, if warning signs are not recognised or responded to quickly enough, the baby can suffer a lack of oxygen. This can cause brain damage which can lead to cerebral palsy.
After the baby has been born, if they become severely unwell it can cause cerebral palsy. Failure to diagnose and treat issues after birth, such as jaundice, meningitis or hypoglycaemia, which could result in the baby developing cerebral palsy which might have been avoided.
3. What are the effects of cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy can affect people in very different ways. Most commonly, though, a child with cerebral palsy can suffer from muscular weakness or lack of coordination, as well as problems with balance. The exact symptoms vary from case to case, but broadly a child with cerebral palsy may suffer from some or all of the following:
- Problems with mobility
- Coordination difficulties
- Some degree of cognitive impairment
- Problems with speech and swallowing
- Limited control of bowels and bladder
- Difficulties sleeping
- Visual and hearing problems
- Limited spatial awareness
- Behavioural issues
4. How do I bring a case of Medical Negligence?
If you believe your child’s cerebral palsy has been caused by Medical Negligence in some way, or if you suffer from cerebral palsy and are now an adult, the first step is to contact a specialist solicitor. It is crucial that the law firm you are considering have solicitors who not only specialise in Medical Negligence cases, but also have experience in cases concerning cerebral palsy.
The solicitor will discuss your situation with you and advise you as to the likelihood of winning a Medical Negligence case and whether it is worth investigating further. They will also explain what you can expect to happen during the case and advise you of your options. If you instruct the solicitor, they will carefully guide you through the whole process and make it as simple as possible.
5. Is there a time limit for bringing a case of Medical Negligence?
The best advice is to contact specialist solicitors as soon as you can. A claim for Medical Negligence can be made either by the parents or legal guardians of a child who has suffered the negligence, or by an adult aged eighteen or over on their own account.
The usual 3 year time limit does not start until a child turns 18, the time limit of three years usually then begins. Where someone has been injured so severely that they do not have the capacity to deal with their own financial and legal affairs, it is possible that there may be no time limit at all.
However, there are many reasons to investigate a claim sooner rather than later. The most important is simply making sure that the evidence needed to prove a claim can be obtained, such as copies of the relevant medical records. That’s why our advice would be to contact specialist solicitors as soon as possible.
6. How long will it take to resolve my claim?
As with any claim for Medical Negligence, the time it will take to resolve the case can vary considerably. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to be a quick process, since it is necessary to gather evidence and obtain independent expert opinions. In a case concerning cerebral palsy, reports from several different consultant experts will be required.
The main factor affecting how long the case will take is whether the Defendant accepts responsibility or not. If negligence is denied and the claim has to be argued in court, it can unfortunately take several years to complete the process.This is another reason that we recommend speaking to a specialist solicitor as soon as you have any concerns.
7. How do I pay for the case?
Unless you have the resources yourself, you will need to find some way of funding your claim. The most common way of funding a claim now is by a solicitor who works on a “no-win, no-fee” basis. This means that you usually will not need to pay anything upfront, and would not usually have to pay anything if you do not win the case.
You may have a legal expenses insurance policy for your family, and if so it might cover the costs of litigation for Medical Negligence. Alternatively, although legal aid is no longer available for most medical negligence claims, legal aid might be available for claims relating to cerebral palsy caused before or shortly after birth.
A specialist solicitor will be able to discuss all these options with you.
8. How much compensation can I expect?
The amount you can expect to receive varies a great deal from case to case, depending on the severity of any disability. The payment usually cover three factors:
- A sum of money for the injury itself.
- A sum to cover all expenses and losses to date, such as the cost of additional care and support that has already been provided.
- A sum calculated to cover all ongoing and future expenses as a result of the injury, including the cost of additional care, therapy, equipment, etc…
Payment is normally divided between an initial lump sum and annual payments. The annual payments usually last for the rest of the injured person’s life, and increase each year to account for inflation.
9. How will the compensation help?
Caring for someone with cerebral palsy can be challenging. If you choose to remain your child’s main carers, it may severely affect your ability to make a living. On the other hand, hiring specialist care is costly, and in either case your child will need expensive equipment and adaptations.
The compensation should allow all these costs to be met. The court will normally take the following into account:
- Occupational therapy
- Speech and language therapy
- Assistive technology and equipment
- Appropriate accommodation for the child and their family
- Special educational needs
- Loss of earnings
- Professional costs associated with managing the compensation
10. Who can I contact for help with cerebral palsy?
Getting the best possible Medical Negligence compensation for you is only part of our job.
We also offer long term support to meet your needs and ensure you receive expert recommendations for care, accommodation, equipment and therapy, so that you needn’t worry about these things.
There are also a number of organisations and charities who specialise in helping people with cerebral palsy and their carers, including:
- Scope, a charity offering practical support for disabled people and their families.
- The Child Brain Injury Trust provides various services to families with someone suffering from a brain injury acquired in childhood.
- The Children’s Trust is a charity offering support to children with acquired brain injury, multiple disabilities and complex health needs.
Whatever your situation, our team of Medical Negligence specialists will support you through every step of your claim. Call us on 01525 378177 or via online.