Palsy and Birth Injury

Damage to the brain, spinal cord, or nervous system can cause the body to react with uncontrolled movements, shaking, or rigidity. These injuries can occur in birth, be caused by degenerative diseases, or triggered by a traumatic injury like a car accident. This type of paralysis, or palsy, can be caused by medical errors or accidents that leave the injury victim suffering permanent damage. 

What is Palsy?

Palsy is a term for types of paralysis-related conditions. Palsy can include weakness, loss of feeling, and uncontrollable body movements or tremors. Palsy the term attached to a number of medical conditions, including: 

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Bell's palsy
  • Erb's palsy
  • Bulbar palsy
  • Conjugate gaze palsy
  • Spinal muscular atrophy or wasting palsy
  • Progressive supranuclear palsy
  • Third-nerve palsy 

The types of palsy are based on the area of damage or injury and may impact specific areas of the body, such as the eye or shoulder, or they can be broader ranging, affecting the whole body. Some of the main types of palsy that can be caused by birth injuries include: 

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Erb's palsy

Cerebral Palsy and Birth Injuries

Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common motor disability for children in the United States. There are more than 760,000 people in the U.S. with cerebral palsy and about 10,000 children born each year will develop cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a general term for a number of motor function conditions, which are generally caused by damaged nerves or incorrectly developed nerves. 

Cerebral palsy can affect different areas of the brain and cause different types of movement disorders including spasticity, uncontrolled movements, and poor balance or coordination. There are 4 main types of cerebral palsy: 

  • Spastic cerebral palsy
  • Dyskinetic cerebral palsy
  • Ataxic cerebral palsy
  • Mixed cerebral palsy

Spastic Cerebral Palsy

Spastic CP is the most common type of cerebral palsy and affects almost 80% of people with the condition. Some of the characteristics of spastic CP include increased muscle tone, muscle stiffness, and uncontrolled movements. Spastic CP can also be classified based on what muscles are affecting. 

Spastic diplegia/diparesis involves muscle rigidity primarily in the legs. Hip and leg muscles may pull together, turn inward, or cross at the knees. These individuals may be unable to walk or require crutches or a wheelchair to get around. 

Spastic hemiplegia/hemiparesis generally only affects one side of a person's body, commonly in the arms more than the legs. 

Spastic quadriplegia/quadriparesis involves all four limbs, the trunk, and the head. These individuals may not be able to walk, suffer developmental disabilities, have problems speaking or hearing, and suffer seizures. 

Dyskinetic Cerebral Palsy 

Dyskinetic CP involves uncontrollable movements of the hands, arms, feet, and legs. Individuals may be unable to walk or find it difficult to sit down. The uncontrolled movement may also affect the head and face, making it difficult to eat, swallow, or talk. 

Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Ataxic CP involves problems with balance and coordination. These individuals may be able to walk with crutches or other supports. 

Mixed Cerebral Palsy

Like the term suggests, mixed cerebral palsy may involve a combination of the above types of palsy, such as spastic-dyskinetic CP.

Signs of Cerebral Palsy 

It can be difficult to diagnose CP at the early stages and parents may have no idea their child suffered any injury until months or years later. Children with CP may have developmental delays or delays in reaching milestones. After delivery, early signs of CP may include: 

  • Head lags coming forward when picked up
  • Body feels stiff
  • Body feels floppy
  • Overextends neck and back 
  • Legs get stiff or cross when picked up

In babies older than 6 months, signs of CP may include: 

  • Child doesn't roll over
  • Child cannot bring hands together
  • Child cannot bring hands to mouth
  • One hand is kept fisted
  • Scooting on buttocks or hopping on knees
  • Lopsided crawling

Causes of Cerebral Palsy and Medical Malpractice

One of the major causes of CP in birth injuries is caused by hypoxia, or reduced oxygen to the child's brain during pregnancy, labor, or childbirth. Cerebral palsy can also develop as the result of the mother or child suffering from an infection. These causes of palsy may be related to improper medical care. If a doctor fails to properly monitor the mother and baby during pregnancy and labor, hypoxia can lead to cerebral palsy or other developmental damages. Other causes may include: 

  • Delayed C-section
  • Misdiagnosis
  • Delayed diagnosis
  • Failure to diagnose infections in the mother 

Prognosis and Lifelong Effects of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is generally a permanent condition. After diagnosis, treatment generally focuses on helping the child reach his or her full potential. Treatment also involves helping the family cope with the child's condition. Treatments may include: 

  • Medication to control seizures
  • Medication to relax muscle spasms
  • Surgery
  • Braces
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy 
  • Speech therapy

Cerebral Palsy and Medical Malpractice Claims

The costs of treating cerebral palsy can be daunting for families. Insurance may not cover the injuries and treatment and families may have to pay out-of-pocket for continuing care for the rest of the child's life. If the injury was caused by a medical error or doctor's negligence, the parties responsible should have to cover the costs caused by their negligence. 

A medical malpractice birth injury lawsuit can help parents recover damages to pay for the medical costs of raising a child with developmental disabilities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a 2003 study found the average lifetime costs for caring for a child with cerebral palsy in the United States was $941,000. Adjusted for inflation, the costs of caring for a child with cerebral palsy in 2021 would be more than $1.3 million. 

A child with cerebral palsy may require continuing care for the rest of their lives, including: 

  • Surgery
  • Speech therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Medications
  • Mental health services
  • Educational services
  • Home modifications

Erb's Palsy or Brachial Palsy

Erb's palsy, or brachial palsy, is another common birth injury that can cause nerve damage and paralysis. In childbirth, when the baby's head is stretched or pulled during delivery, it can cause damage to the nerves around the neck, shoulders, and arms. This can cause temporary or permanent damage and loss of movement in one or both arms. 

Erb's palsy can be caused by delivery involving shoulder dystocia, when the baby's shoulders get stuck or are too big to pass through the birth canal. About 10% of babies with shoulder dystocia are born with Erb's palsy. The majority of Erb's palsy cases resolve themselves and result only in temporary injury but it may sometimes cause permanent damage. 

Palsy or nerve damage may be more common with the use of delivery assisted tools, like forceps or vacuum-extractor tools to pull on the baby's head, pulling on the baby's shoulder, or breech delivery putting pressure on the baby's shoulders. 

Palsy and Birth Injury Malpractice Lawsuits

If your child suffered cerebral palsy, Erb's palsy, or other birth injury due to medical malpractice, talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney about your options for recovery. Do not hesitate to contact Gilman & Bedigian today for a free consultation.

Let Us Help

If someone you are close to has been seriously injured or worse, you are naturally devastated not only by what has happened, but by the effect that the injury or loss has had on you and your family. At a time when you're vulnerable, traumatized and emotionally exhausted, you need a team that will support you through the often complex process that lies ahead.

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