Cerebral Palsy: What You Need to Know

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Approximately 10,000 to 16,000 babies in the United States are born with cerebral palsy each year. If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, here is what you need to know.

What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a disorder concerning movement, muscle tone and posture. Symptoms of cerebral palsy include involuntary movements, unsteady walking, rigidity of the limbs and trunk, and exaggerated reflexes. Because the severity of cerebral palsy often varies widely from child to child, the effect of the disorder on a child’s functional abilities can be difficult to predict. Those affected by cerebral palsy often have vision and hearing problems, seizures, and intellectual disabilities as well.

Causes of cerebral palsy

In general, cerebral palsy is caused by an abnormality, injury or disruption in brain development, before or during birth. The exact trigger of cerebral palsy is difficult to determine, but typical causes include fetal stroke, infections in the fetus or the mother, traumatic head injury, premature delivery, birth trauma, lack of oxygen to the brain, and random mutations in genes.

Oftentimes, cerebral palsy occurs as a result of a mistake made during the birth or during prenatal care. Common examples of medical malpractice resulting in cerebral palsy include:

  • Failure to detect or properly treat infections in the mother or the fetus
  • Failure to properly monitor fetal heart rate before and during delivery
  • Failure to detect a prolapsed umbilical cord
  • Delay in performing a medically necessary cesarean section

Damages

Damages recovered in cerebral palsy cases are usually large because the settlement or court award takes into account a lifetime of losses for the child. Economic damages can be recovered, and they include costs for past and future medical care, rehabilitation, special educational needs, and nursing assistance. Noneconomic damages can also be recovered for pain and suffering, both emotional and physical. Punitive damages may also be available to punish the defendant and to deter others from committing the same negligent act in the future.