On July 15, 2013, a Tennessee medical malpractice jury awarded $33.5 million against an obstetrician and his employer for the obstetrician’s alleged failure to perform a timely cesarean section delivery that resulted in the newborn’s severe and permanent brain injury and a form of cerebral palsy known as spastic quadriplegia that restricts the child’s ability to use his arms and legs or to control his bodily functions. The $33.5 million judgment will provide for the child’s substantial medical and other needs for the rest of his life.
The ordeal began on April 28, 2005, when the pregnant woman was seen by her obstetrician at a high risk obstetrical clinic. Her physician did tests which indicated that the fetus was showing signs of distress and needed to be delivered promptly to avoid injury to the baby. The physician sent the pregnant woman directly to the hospital from the clinic in order for the woman to be promptly delivered. The woman arrived at the hospital at 10:45 a.m.
Despite the need for an urgent delivery, the Memphis hospital scheduled the cesarean section delivery by 3:30 p.m. The delivery did not occur until 4:49 p.m. Evidence introduced during the medical malpractice trial indicated that the newborn would have avoided injury due to the unnecessary delay in cesarean section delivery if he had been born just 15 to 20 minutes earlier. However, the baby was born with his severe and permanent injuries and cognitive impairments.
What Is Cerebral Palsy?
Cerebral palsy is caused by abnormalities in parts of the brain that control muscle movements. Most children with cerebral palsy are born with it although it may not be detected for months or more after birth (early signs of cerebral palsy usually appear before a child reaches 3). The most common signs of cerebral palsy are a lack of muscle coordination when performing voluntary movements (called ataxia); stiff or tight muscles and exaggerated reflexes (called spasticity); walking with one foot or leg dragging; walking on the toes, a crouched gait, or a “scissored” gait; and/or muscle tone that is either too stiff or too floppy. While cerebral palsy cannot be cured, early treatment can often improve a child’s capabilities. Treatment may include physical and occupational therapy, speech therapy, drugs to control seizures, relax muscle spasms, and alleviate pain; surgery to correct anatomical abnormalities or release tight muscles; braces and other orthotic devices; wheelchairs and rolling walkers; and, communication aids such as computers with attached voice synthesizers.
Cerebral Palsy Birth Injury
According to the United Cerebral Palsy Research and Educational Foundation, 70% of brain damage that causes cerebral palsy occurs prior to birth, mostly in the second and third pregnancy trimesters. Twenty percent occurs during the birthing period, while 10% occurs during the first two years of life while the brain is still forming. Two studies have shown that only 9% of cases of cerebral palsy are a direct result of asphyxia.
Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (“HIE”) is the brain injury caused by asphyxia (oxygen deprivation). The newborn’s body can compensate for brief periods of depleted oxygen, but if the asphyxia lasts too long, brain tissue is destroyed. Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy due to fetal or neonatal asphyxia is a leading cause of death or severe impairment among infants. Such impairment can include epilepsy, developmental delay, motor impairment, neurodevelopmental delay, and cognitive impairment. Usually, the severity of impairment cannot be determined until a child is three to four years old.
If your child was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at or shortly after birth, the cause of your child’s cerebral palsy may be due to medical malpractice. It is imperative that you promptly consult with a medical malpractice attorney in your state who may investigate the cause of your child’s cerebral palsy for you and represent you and your child in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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