Cerebral Palsy Claims
Cerebral Palsy is a brain injury that around 1 in 400 children in the UK are born with every year. It affects movement and muscle control. Life expectancy is generally unaffected, but the symptoms do put a great strain on both the physical and mental health of people with the condition.
There are many possible causes, but the injury can occur as the result of medical negligence during or before birth. Our expert team understand the great difficulties that come with living with Cerebral Palsy and can help you find out if you’ve been affected by medical negligence. If you have, we can help you seek the confirmation you deserve.
What is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral Palsy is the general term for a number of neurological conditions that affect movement and coordination.
There is no precise definition of Cerebral Palsy, but clinicians and others around the world are working to establish one international definition. However, it is agreed that Cerebral Palsy is caused by problems in the areas of the brain responsible for controlling movement, and can occur if the brain develops abnormally or is damaged in early life. Parts of the brain responsible for important functions such as speech, hearing, vision and the ability to learn may also be affected. Therefore, people with the condition can have multiple problems not just limited to muscle movement.
Types of Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral Palsy is a complicated condition and symptoms may differ from person to person. In addition to this, there are sub-divisions depending on condition’s severity, so a child may be diagnosed with mild, moderate or severe. The four main categories of the condition are:
Spastic Cerebral Palsy
Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common type, accounting for 70 – 80% of all cases of Cerebral Palsy. It occurs when brain damage affects the cerebral cortex (the outer layer of the brain). The damage may be limited to one side of the body or just the lower limbs.
In spastic Cerebral Palsy, brain damage prevents the normal messages from brain to muscle. In order to allow movement, muscles will work in pairs, so one set contracting while the other relaxes. In spastic Cerebral Palsy the muscles often become active at once, which causes tension or spasticity which makes movement difficult.
The impact on movement depends on the severity of the condition and the number of muscles affected. For those who suffer from mild spastic Cerebral Palsy there may only be an inability to complete certain tasks, whereas with severe spastic Cerebral Palsy, a person may be unable to complete most, if not all of the activities of daily living.
Athetoid Cerebral Palsy
This type of Cerebral Palsy affects about one quarter of all the people with the condition, and is a result of brain damage to the basal ganglia located in the mid-brain region.
It usually affects all of the limbs and, in some instances, facial muscles are affected which causes dribbling. Rather than the increased muscle tone found in spastic Cerebral Palsy, this type of Cerebral Palsy manifests with some muscles being far too tense while others are too relaxed and this involuntary muscle activity can affect the whole body at once.
Mixed Cerebral Palsy
This is when there is a combination of spasticity and athetoid movements.
Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
This is a much rarer form of Cerebral Palsy affecting only between 5 – 10% of those with this condition. In these cases, damage is caused to the cerebellum – the part of the brain governing the muscle movement required for balance and coordination – so those with ataxic Cerebral Palsy can struggle with these faculties.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of Cerebral Palsy can vary according to the type and severity of the condition. It can range from relatively mild, allowing a person the ability to live independently with proficient speech and mobility, to a severe and debilitating condition affecting all four limbs and thus depriving some of the ability to speak, walk and requiring full care.
The main symptoms are:
- Muscle stiffness or floppiness.
- Muscle weakness.
- Random and uncontrolled body movements.
- Balance and coordination problems.
Many people with Cerebral Palsy have associated problems including seizures or fits, drooling, swallowing difficulties, communication and learning difficulties, although intelligence can be, and often is, unaffected.
Who is affected?
- Cerebral Palsy affects roughly 1 in 400 births
- More boys are born with Cerebral Palsy than girls at around 27:20
- Every year, around 1,800 children are diagnosed with the condition (PACE)
- It’s estimated that there are approximately 30,000 children living with Cerebral Palsy in the UK
What causes Cerebral Palsy?
There are a number of causes of Cerebral Palsy and these include:-
- An infection caught by the mother during pregnancy.
- A difficult or premature birth resulting in medical difficulties such as a lack of oxygen.
- Bleeding in the baby’s brain.
- Changes in the genes that affect the brains development when the baby is in utero
Of these potential causes, those at the highest risk are those born prematurely. Often Cerebral Palsy is not diagnosed immediately at birth because the signs and symptoms can be quite subtle in a new-born baby. Quite often, it is a baby failing to reach developmental milestones in the early years that leads parents to question why a child is experiencing problems and to then seek advice.
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Why do families claim?
For most families seeking legal advice, there is often simply a need to understand what has happened, and to ascertain why and how their child has been affected. In short, they want answers and accountability.
Case study in brief: Baby J’s story
Mrs P’s son, J, suffers with Cerebral Palsy as a result of inadequacies just before and during birth. The family’s aftercare was also severely lacking.
Midwives failed to recognise an irregular heartbeat and were slow to seek the opinion of a senior doctor. After further delays, an emergency caesarean section was organised, but baby J was born lifeless and blue. He was resuscitated and placed in the special care baby unit, but went on to suffer multi organ failure and seizures.
Mrs P was not informed of the risks of Cerebral Palsy affecting baby J and was left to her own intuition to seek a diagnosis after she recognised developmental issues.
As a result, Mrs P sought legal advice, which found that there had been negligent care during the management of the labour and that the abnormal heart rate should have been detected much earlier. They also found that, had this happened and baby J had been born more quickly, he would have avoided the brain damage and diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy.
Despite being listed for trial, the case was resolved at a round table meeting and resulted in the family being awarded both a lump sum and quarterly payments. The compensation allowed the family to move closer to the special needs school and continues to vastly improve J and the family’s quality of life and their ability to cope with the condition.
How does a claim work?
The cause of Cerebral Palsy that leads to claims for compensation is nearly always a lack of oxygen at birth or in the immediate aftermath. Of all the types of Cerebral Palsy, only about 20% are due to lack of oxygen at birth with the vast majority being due to other factors. In these cases the baby has suffered a lack of oxygen during delivery or very shortly after being born. This usually results in the baby being delivered lifeless, blue and requiring resuscitation and then being admitted to a special care baby unit. The baby often goes on to develop organ failure and seizures.
If it can be proven that the lack of oxygen is due to medical negligence then you may be able to claim compensation.
The compensation process involves a detailed investigation of the events leading up to the delivery of the baby and the subsequent aftercare, and it can result in settlements aimed at improving lifelong quality of life – not just the child’s immediate needs. Families who make claims do so ultimately to improve their child’s quality of life.
At the moment, apart from the legal process, there is no other way that families can obtain compensation. As a result, it is important that they seek the advice of specialist lawyers with a good understanding of the causes of Cerebral Palsy, including how it can occur, the signs to look out for in medical records and documentation that will indicate whether there is a likely case or not.
A typical case involves actions such as a thorough assessment of the medical notes and their indications as well as consultation from the very best medical experts. These experts will report on the standard of care offered during the antenatal period, the labour and the after care in order to prove that a child has suffered Cerebral Palsy as a result of medical negligence.
How can we help?
Our expert team led by former nurse and NHS Trust advisor Rosamund Rhodes-Kemp will make sure your case is investigated thoroughly and be available to answer any questions you have along the way. One of our experienced lawyers will be able to guide the family through the process, which can be lengthy. We can help obtain an interim compensation payment so that immediate steps can be taken to maximise the child’s potential and offer a better quality of life in terms of therapy and equipment, accommodation and care.
Whilst Cerebral Palsy is not a progressive condition, it is one that can lead to complications unless appropriately managed. Children often benefit from highly specialised intervention at an early stage and careful monitoring throughout their development, so acting fast is imperative.
Whilst no amount of money can make up for an unwell child we aim to deliver the highest settlement possible, as a claim for compensation can provide the financial support needed to help your child.
Senior Solicitor and Joint Head of Clinical Negligence
Team Supervisor and Solicitor, Clinical Negligence
Senior Solicitor, Clinical Negligence
Senior Solicitor, Clinical Negligence
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Full case study: Baby J’s story
Mrs P’s pregnancy was uneventful. She was working as a health professional and J was her first baby. She and her husband were looking forward to the delivery of a healthy child but unfortunately, this is not what happened. Mrs P’s waters broke two days after the expected delivery date. She attended the local hospital where she was booked to give birth. It was at a weekend and early evening when she arrived at the hospital. It was obvious that it was very busy and that the labour ward was short staffed, a comment which was made by various staff members during the course of the labour.
Initially, all seemed well. The baby’s heart monitor showed that the baby was doing well during the labour and mum was managing on gas and air for pain relief. Then in the early hours of Sunday morning, the heart monitor began to show a worrying trace and the baby’s heart rate became erratic and then slowed down. The midwife who had been with Mrs P for the first part of her labour had gone off duty and the midwife who had come on to the night shift was extremely busy with several mums all in labour at once. She did observe the changes in the heart rate but misread the trace and thought that the baby’s heart rate was ok. She did not summon a senior doctor to look at the trace for 30 minutes.
When the doctor did arrive, she immediately recognised that the heart rate was seriously abnormal. She made the decision, after a discussion with the parents, to arrange an emergency caesarean section. A theatre team was assembled after a short delay due to the fact that there was already an emergency caesarean section being performed in the one theatre that was available. When baby J was born, he was lifeless, blue, had to be resuscitated and was taken to the special care baby unit where he went on to suffer multi organ failure and seizures.
Mum and dad were never told that it was possible that baby J would suffer from Cerebral Palsy but because mum was a health professional, she realised in the first six months that her baby boy was not developing normally and she sought the advice of her GP. She was referred to a specialist who made the diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy at approximately 8 months. Although J’s parents tried to find out what had happened from the hospital and requested copies of the relevant notes, they were not satisfied with the explanation they were given and consulted a lawyer.
Full medical records were obtained and the relevant medical experts were instructed. They reported and confirmed that there had been negligent care during the management of the labour and that the abnormal heart rate should have been detected much earlier and that had this happened and baby J had been born more quickly, he would have avoided the brain damage and diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy.
Unfortunately, with baby J not only were all four of his limbs affected by spastic Cerebral Palsy, but he also suffered learning difficulties and cognitive impairment.
Mum gave up her work as a health visitor in order to look after him and take him to the various hospital appointments and therapy treatments. Dad continued to work and all of the family’s income was directed to securing the best possible treatment for baby J’s condition.
Once positive evidence was obtained into the legal claim, and a letter setting out the allegations of negligence and the damaged caused, the Trust, who initially defended the claim, then admitted the negligence and an application for judgment and a payment on account of damages was made.
With the payment on account it was possible for baby J to go to a special needs school where there was an emphasis on physiotherapy, posture and movement. This would help maximise his ability to move his limbs voluntarily, reduce the spasticity and to enable him to sit up, hold his head more firmly and to operate switch controls for IT equipment. Without the compensation it would not have been possible for J to attend this special needs school, where he has remained a pupil for 8 years.
Following the judgment and the payment on account of damages, reports were obtained from various specialists such as speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy as well as accommodation in order to work out J’s needs for the rest of his life.
Once those reports were in place, they were shared with the Defendants who had commissioned their own reports and these were compared with those of J’s legal team.
Although the case was listed for trial it was resolved at a round table meeting and an award was agreed which involved a lump sum to enable the family to move closer to the special needs school and then the balance was made up of quarterly payments to cover the cost of J’s ongoing treatment. What was particularly interesting about this case was that it was the first one in which quarterly payments or periodic payments as they are known was made, following a change in the law a few weeks before the final settlement. Prior to this, compensation was given in a lump sum which would have to be invested in the hope that it would be sufficient to cover the child’s needs.
The difficulty with this approach was that life expectancy for children with Cerebral Palsy was based on outdated research and children with Cerebral Palsy are now living far longer than the early research indicated due to better medical treatment and standards of living – and of course a better understanding of the condition.
Therefore, there was always a risk before that the lump sum awarded would run out before the person died. With periodic payments, there is a certainty that the claimant will have enough to cover their annual costs, regardless of how long they survive.
The outcome for the family has been excellent. They can now ensure that J has what he needs to cope with his condition and maximise his potential and his quality of life.
On J recently moving to secondary school his mum went back to work on a part time basis and she has also become a fundraiser for various charities associated with Cerebral Palsy.
The compensation enabled the family to live as near normal a life as they possibly could and to take a lot of the stress and strain of looking after a child with considerable disabilities which can impact on the rest of the family including the parent’s marriage.
Everything from accommodation to holidays and the family car can now be tailored to meet J’s needs.
J is a happy boy who enjoys school outings and holidays with his parents.
How to make a claim
If your child is suffering from Cerebral Palsy and you believe this is as a result of oxygen loss, birth or medical negligence, please get in touch with us today. We’ll take the worry and hassle out of making a claim.
Simply call us on
0148 278 7771 for free advice
No win no fee
- personal insurance cover so there’s no financial risk to you in pursuing a claim
- whatever the outcome of your case, you won’t have to pay a penny, other than an agreed percentage of your damages
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