Cerebral palsy (CP) is a group of neurological disorders usually caused by brain abnormalities that occur early in a child’s development or during delivery. The disorders affect muscle coordination, body movement, and brain functioning. Most children born with cerebral palsy may not display symptoms until months or years later. The Chicago cerebral palsy attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC appreciate the impact a special-needs child can have on the entire family and work hard to ensure that the legal rights of the child are protected to the fullest extent under Illinois medical malpractice laws.
We invite you to speak with an experienced Chicago cerebral palsy lawyer who has worked on cerebral palsy lawsuits, without any cost or obligation. If you are ready to get answers to determine if a physician’s negligence caused your child’s CP, we are here for you and offer years of experience in working with litigation cerebral palsy lawsuits.
There are multiple types of cerebral palsy with different characteristics:
- Spastic cerebral palsy: Stiff muscles with jerky movement
- Athetoid cerebral palsy: Uncontrolled movements, writhing
- Ataxic cerebral palsy: Poor balance and coordination
- Hemiplegic cerebral palsy: Poor balance and coordination
It is possible to have mixed-type cerebral palsy, a combination of the different types of CP listed above. For additional information, please view our practice pages for Ataxic Cerebral Palsy, Spastic Cerebral Palsy and Hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy.
What are Some Indications that my Child has CP?
Cerebral palsy symptoms impact children's feelings, expressions, and looks. Since cerebral palsy is actually a number of conditions, symptoms vary from child to child. Common risk factors for cerebral palsy include:
- External Factors: delivery problems, or trauma trauma to the newborn infant before, during, or right after delivery.
- Maternal Factors: mother’s health, sexual history, diet and internal chemistry
- Child Factors: low birth weight, premature birth, disease (meningitis, encephalitis), or hormone imbalance
Signs that your child has a developmental or neurological disorder may not be immediately apparent, because the infant is unable to communicate symptoms. If you observe abnormalities in motor function development, contact your pediatrician. One of the reasons doctors must perform tests over an extended period of time is because cerebral palsy is often accompanied by other conditions that are either related or exist independently. Understanding cerebral palsy begins with an understanding of its primary conditions. These conditions exist solely because of an injury to the brain or a birth defect and do not follow a natural progression as found in other neurological conditions.
- Motor control and coordination— The areas of the brain affected by the injury or malformation make it difficult for the brain to communicate with other areas of the body. The result is impaired motor function and difficulty walking or moving.
- Poor muscle tone— Muscle tone is affected by atrophy of muscles impacted by the inability of the brain to communicate properly with the affected limbs. Over time, this exacerbates difficulties with motor function because the muscles become too weak to perform their intended functions.
- Posture and balance— Children with cerebral palsy often face difficulties maintaining proper posture and balance because the muscles normally used to support balance are weakened.
- Oral motor function— Despite any knowledge or understanding of language, children with cerebral palsy may find it difficult to form words because the brain may be unable to communicate with the muscles responsible for speech. These muscles perform other vital functions, and diminished oral motor function can result in secondary conditions.
Secondary conditions occur due to complications arising from primary conditions. These conditions may or may not be progressive and in some cases, therapy and treatment may reduce the severity of secondary conditions or their chance of occurrence.
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing and breathing— The loss of oral motor function can impair the ability of a child to control drooling and to chew and swallow properly. This makes routine tasks such as eating hazardous when they cause choking, while excessive drooling can lead to skin irritation or pneumonia.
- Impaired vision or hearing— The muscles responsible for controlling the movement of the eyes might be affected and this can result in “lazy” or crossed eyes. Over time, this can lead to double vision or force the brain to ignore signals from one of the eyes entirely. Children with cerebral palsy are also more prone to experiencing gradual hearing loss, requiring frequent monitoring of any progressive loss of hearing and vision.
- Incontinence: It may be more difficult for children diagnosed with cerebral palsy to maintain bowel control, and the condition may worsen as the muscles continue to become weakened.
- Failure to Thrive: This is a medical term for the delayed development or growth in children suffering from cerebral palsy and is directly related to the child’s loss of motor function. The muscles and joints affected by the condition do not grow and develop at a normal rate and can contribute to deformities and make it more difficult to overcome diminished motor function.
The following conditions are not caused by cerebral palsy but a link has been established between CP and these associative conditions. An associative condition may exist regardless of whether the child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and is indicative of brain damage that has occurred in another area of the brain.
- Epilepsy— Many children affected by cerebral palsy suffer from seizures and uncontrollable muscle spasms. Studies have linked some form of epilepsy to approximately half of individuals diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
- Learning disabilities— Developmental and intellectual disabilities are strongly linked to cerebral palsy. Many children with CP also suffer from behavioral disorders and learning disabilities such as ADHD and autism, and while these conditions themselves have not been directly linked to cerebral palsy, a link has been established between CP and diminished mental capacity.
Can Medical Malpractice Cause Cerebral Palsy?
Yes. Many cases of cerebral palsy are linked to injuries sustained by the developing infant during pregnancy or during labor and delivery. Cerebral palsy related to malpractice is primarily the result of the failure of medical professionals to detect or timely act upon injuries that can impair brain development or function. In most cases, children born with cerebral palsy are affected by the condition for life and require ongoing care for the treatment of their symptoms.
There are links between elevated bilirubin levels and cerebral palsy due both to the ability of bilirubin to freely pass into the brain and the undeveloped liver’s inability to process and eliminate bilirubin from a newborn’s system quickly. Depleted oxygen levels also play a factor in the development of cerebral palsy as the areas of the brain affected are responsible for the development of motor functions, balance and the ability to speak. Injuries that can eventually result in the development of cerebral palsy if not properly addressed include the following.
- Infections during pregnancy or as the result of injuries sustained during birth. Infections threaten brain development by triggering an immune response, elevating internal temperature and increasing bilirubin levels. Most infections are cured through the administration of antibiotics if properly detected.
- Detachment of the placenta during birth. This can cause uncontrolled bleeding, limiting the supply of blood reaching the infant's brain. The mother and child need to be monitored for signs of distress during labor and delivery.
- Injuries to the head that are the result of assisted delivery devices such as forceps or a vacuum. One prevalent symptom of injuries sustained in this manner is the presence of a "caput succedaneum", which is a formation on the scalp that results from bleeding and swelling following the use of delivery devices to suction the child’s head. Bleeding results in the production of bilirubin. Babies who have sustained head trauma need to be monitored for jaundice as this is a sign of elevated bilirubin levels.
- Genetic mutations or predispositions. In some cases, genetic markers or mutations that occur naturally throughout pregnancy may increase the risk of cerebral palsy or act as the catalyst.
- Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE): HIE is a brain injury that is the result of asphyxia to the brain. This cutoff of oxygen supply to the brain can happen during pregnancy, childbirth, or events after birth.
- Injuries sustained following birth. Some cases of cerebral palsy are the result of a traumatic injury occurring during an infant's developmental stages. Blows to the head such as from a fall or sustained in a car accident may result in elevated bilirubin levels. Internal bleeding can limit the supply of oxygen to the brain, resulting in the death of cells important to cognitive and motor function.
- Infections which occur after birth. Infants possess underdeveloped immune systems and are susceptible to infection in the months following delivery. It is important to detect the presence of serious infections such as meningitis as they are linked to the development of cerebral palsy in infants.
- Cerebral Dysgenesis: This is abnormal brain development and is not the result of an injury to the brain.
- Periventricular Leukomalacia (PVL): This is damage to the white matter of the brain. The majority of infants diagnosed with PVL will also have cerebral palsy.
- Intraventricular Hemorrhage (IVH): IVH is hemorrhaging or bleeding in the brain. Bleeding can cause a hematoma that can damage brain tissue.
Types of Medical Negligence
While medical error is not always the primary cause of cerebral palsy, it is important to note that around ten percent of cases have been linked to medical negligence. Doctors and medical staff should take the following precautions in order to ensure the safety of the unborn child throughout the pregnancy, labor and delivery. Our Chicago cerebral palsy lawyers commonly see physician and hospital staff negligence such as:
- Improper monitoring of the child throughout the pregnancy in order to detect abnormalities, mutations, infections or other risk factors that place the child at risk of developing neurological disorders.
- Special treatment must be given to children who are born prematurely or who have a low birth weight as these factors increase the chance of hemorrhaging during and after delivery. A definitive link has been proven between premature birth and cerebral palsy; some studies have suggested that premature babies could be up to 80 times more likely to develop cerebral palsy as those delivered at full term.
- Failure to properly monitor heart rates of both mother and child during delivery in order to detect symptoms of fetal distress. If the baby exhibits an abnormal heart rate, it is likely a symptom of reduced blood or oxygen supply and represents a threat to its well-being. Doctors must take decisive action regarding the use of emergency cesarean section if it is determined the child or mother is in distress.
- Failure to monitor newborns for the presence of jaundice. The yellow coloration that accompanies bruising is due to bilirubin excreted during the healing process. The liver is normally able to regulate bilirubin levels and eliminate any excess bilirubin through urine, but newborns’ livers are unable to eliminate the substance quickly enough. This results in the yellowing of the skin and eyes as bilirubin accumulates throughout the body. If detected in time, the condition is easily treatable. Failure to act in time allows excess bilirubin to reach the brain and cause harm to areas responsible for motor function and speech.
How Long Do I Have to File a Cerebral Palsy Lawsuit in Illinois?
Generally, Illinois medical malpractice lawsuits must be commenced within two years from the date of the event that caused the injury, however for cerebral palsy there are many factors that may extend this time allowance. (See 735 ILCS 5/13-212.) Also, if the person is deemed ‘disabled’ the statute of limitations may be extended to allow them or a parent to pursue a malpractice case beyond the statutory deadline.
How Much are Cerebral Palsy Lawsuits Worth?
Every case is different and each child's past, current and future needs are unique. Our cerebral palsy attorneys fight for the highest possible compensation when presenting evidence in court or negotiating with an insurance company.
We seek to recover monetary damages on your behalf including:
- Past and current medical expenses
- The cost of future care that lasts the child's lifetime
- Family out-of-pocket expenses
- The cost of counseling and special education
- Funds to cover physical, occupational and speech therapies
- Money for future surgical needs
- Funds to pay for equipment and supplies including braces and wheelchairs
- Home care costs
- Non-tangible damages including the family and child's pain, suffering, mental anguish, and emotional distress
Sample Illinois CP Settlements
Because many people with cerebral palsy experience life-long disabilities, many CP legal cases have considerable value. Below are some examples of lucrative negotiated settlements:
The mother in this case received Pitocin during labor, which is a drug often used by OB-GYNs to induce or hasten the labor process. The doctors ignored warning signs such as slowing of the infant’s heart rate and hyperstimulation. They continued to administer the medication, attempted delivery with a vacuum and finally performed a C-section. The infant was in critical condition and had to be resuscitated after delivery. The child sustained major injuries including cerebral palsy, impairing her mental and motor functions for the rest of her life. Her parents brought suit for her medical bills as well as the continuing pain and disability their child would suffer.
$9 Million Settlement
Doctors induced labor at 38 weeks of pregnancy because the mother had high blood pressure. They administered four times the suggested dose of a drug called Cytotec, which caused the infant’s heart rate to slow. The child was born with a condition called acidosis, which produced cerebral palsy. He needed a device to speak and required medical care for the rest of his life. The family’s attorneys presented evidence that the child would have millions of dollars’ worth of long-term medical needs, lost wages, pain and other economic and non-economic damages.
$5 Million Settlement
The physicians in this case waited too long to perform a C-section despite the fact that the pregnancy was several weeks overdue and the fetus was already nine pounds. The child was born with a seizure disorder, cerebral palsy, and other medical conditions. By age 16, she had the mental development of an eight-year-old. The family brought a negligence suit for her costs of care, reduced quality of life, lost future wages, and pain.
$3.5 Million Settlement
The victim experienced hypoxic-ischemic trauma during birth, leaving her with cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder. She died several years later as a direct result of these complications. The mother sued the hospital and medical staff who performed the delivery for negligence. She received compensation for the pain the child suffered before passing, medical bills, loss of normal life, and lost companionship.
$10 Million Settlement
This case involved twins born at 27 weeks. One twin showed signs of an infection and was effectively treated. The other child wasn’t checked for infections despite being at high risk. Meningitis set in as well as cerebral palsy. The medical bills alone were almost $500,000, not including the long-term care the child would need. The parents sued the hospital and doctors for breach of the duties of care. The family recovered damages for their economic and non-economic losses.
Protecting the Rights of Disabled Children in Chicago: Cerebral Palsy Attorneys are Ready to Help Your Family
Our Chicago cerebral palsy lawyers understand the frustration and anger parents may feel, knowing that their child’s cerebral palsy is due to a medical error. You can be assured that Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC has the experience, resources, and commitment to pursue all responsible parties. We will work hard to see that your Illinois cerebral palsy lawsuit is successful and that your child receives full compensation for all damages available under the law. Begin the process now and contact us for a fee consultation.