Cerebral Palsy compensation claims advice
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Cerebral Palsy is one of a number of birth defects which can effect an infant from the moment they come into this world and is typically characterized by the presence of impaired muscle coordination and/or other disabilities.
The cause of the onset of cerebral palsy lies in the unborn child suffering damage to their brain either before or at the point of birth, and recent statistics show that 1 in 400 children here in the UK are born with this medical condition. A medical condition which for the most part severely compromises their ability to both move and hear in a manner which is perceived to be normal, together with experiencing speech problems from the outset.
What’s more, children suffering from cerebral palsy will also have to cope with learning difficulties as they grow up.
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What is cerebral palsy and what causes it?
Essentially cerebral palsy comes to prominence after an unborn (or at the point of birth or immediately thereafter) child’s brain suffers an injury or catastrophic malfunction in the initial – and natural – development phase.
A more general term as opposed to specific one as such, cerebral palsy extends to cover a broad range of conditions that impacts on a child’s brain and nervous system. Despite from the outside it appearing that the child’s muscles are affected by the condition, truth be told it’s the part of the brain which controls these muscle groups which has sustained the damage which has resulted in this physical state observed.
There are four predominant types of cerebral palsy, which we examine a little closer beneath:
Spastic cerebral palsy – Accounting for in the region of 70 – 80% of cases, this is when the muscles are weak and stiff (hypertonia), especially if moving them rapidly
Dyskinetic (or Athetoid) cerebral palsy – When muscle tone (the unconscious ability to contract or relax muscles) varies between stiffness and floppiness (hypotonia), causing random and uncontrolled body movements (choreoathetoid cerebral palsy), or involuntary spasms and postures (dystonic cerebral palsy)
Ataxic cerebral palsy – When a person has balance and co-ordination problems, resulting in jerky and clumsy movements; they may also experience tremors (involuntary shaking) in their hands
Mixed cerebral palsy – When a person has features of more than one of the types mentioned above
What are the key signs/symptoms of cerebral palsy in a child?
There are various prominent signs of cerebral palsy, which help healthcare professionals and experts in this field of medicine to identify whether or not individuals are suffering from the condition and these include the following;
Muscle tone – Arguably one of the key symptoms of the presence of CP is compromised muscle tone, which basically occurs when the muscles fail to coordinate with one another and therefore impair movements and fundamental functionality.
To explain better, muscles which are historically known to work in tandem with one another (think biceps and triceps for instance) may both contract or relax simultaneously in people displaying the characteristics of cerebral palsy; effectively impeding movement and coordination.
Alternatively the muscles of the trunk might relax too much, making it difficult to maintain a tight core; again this will create an impaired posture which will be physically highlighted by an inability to sit or to move from a sitting to standing position.
The two most common signs of abnormal muscle tone are hypotonia and hypertonia, the former graphically illustrated by decreased muscle tone or tension (flaccid, relaxed, or floppy limbs), whilst the latter goes a long way to explain the physical evidence relating to increased muscle tone or tension (stiff or rigid limbs).
Movement , coordination and control – It’s common for a child to experience different types of impaired muscle control in opposite limbs as we have mentioned above, while coordination and control can likewise be affected differently in each limb.
The impairment of coordination and control fall under the following types, and the following picks up where we left off earlier:
- Spastic movements – Hypertonic movements where the muscles are too tight resulting in muscle spasms, scissoring of the legs, clonus, contracture, fixed joints, and over-flexed limbs
- Athetoid or dyskinetic movements – Fluctuating muscle tone causing uncontrolled, sometimes slow, writhing movements which can worsen with stress
- Ataxic movements – poor coordination and balance making tasks – such as writing, brushing teeth, buttoning shirts, tying shoes, and putting keys into slots – difficult
- Mixed movements – A mixture of movement impairments, most commonly a combination of spastic and athetoid types, affecting different limbs
- Gait disturbances – Control impairments affecting the way a child walks. Disturbances including the likes of; In-toeing (toes angle or rotate inward), out-toeing (toes angle or rotate outward), limping (more weight is placed on one foot than the other, causing a dipping, or wavy stride), toe walking (the weight is unevenly placed on the toes), propulsive gait (a child walks hunched over in a stiff posture with the head and shoulders bent forward), spastic and scissor gait (the hips flex slightly making it look like the child is crouching while knees and thighs slide past one another like scissors), spastic gait (one leg drags due to muscle spasticity), steppage gait (toes drag because the foot drags) or waddling gait (duck-like walking pattern that can appear later in life)
Reflexes – Certain abnormal reflexes may also indicate cerebral palsy. Hyperreflexia are excessive reflex responses that cause twitching and spasticity. Underdeveloped (or lacking postural and protective reflexes) are warning signs for abnormal development, including Cerebral Palsy. Abnormal primitive reflexes may not function properly in children with cerebral palsy, or they may not disappear at specific points in development as they do with children with no impairment.
Posture – Asymmetrical posture means the right and left limbs will not mirror one another. The hip-joints are one area where this is often prominent in instances of cerebral palsy. One leg will bend inward at the hip, while the other will bend outward.
Balance – A child’s inability to sit without support can be a sign of cerebral palsy. Signs to look for when a child sits include:
- Requiring both hands for support
- Having difficulty balancing when not using hands for support
- Unable to sit without using hands for support
Other signs to look for include, but are not limited to usually comprise of:
- Swaying when standing
- Unsteady when walking
- Difficulty making quick movements
- Needing hands for activities that require balance
Fine motor function – Executing precise movements defines the category of fine motor function. Fine motor control encompasses many activities that are learned, and involves a combination of both mental (planning and reasoning) and physical (coordination and sensation) skills to master.
Oral motor function – Displaying difficulty in using the lips, tongue, and jaw indicate impaired oral motor function; this is a sign that may be present in up to 90% of preschool-aged children diagnosed with CP. Signs of oral motor function impairment include, but are not limited to difficulty with any of the following:
- Difficulties speaking (dysarthria)
- Swallowing/drooling difficulties (dysphagia)
Are there any other signs worth noting?
Yes, other problems closely associated with cerebral palsy include:
- Repeated seizures or fits (epilepsy)
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)
- Skeletal abnormalities, particularly hip dislocation or an abnormally curved spine (scoliosis)
- Difficulty controlling their bladder (urinary incontinence)
- Visual impairment
What grounds for pursuing compensation are there if my child has cerebral palsy?
In terms of foundations for mounting a claim of medical negligence with direct reference to a child being born with CP, then there are a few avenues to go down.
Clinical/medical negligence in this context tends to come to the fore should there have been a documented failure to deliver a child when there were clear indications of stress, as well as delays in the delivery of a new-born baby could have seen the infant deprived of vital oxygen which in itself can cause permanent brain damage.
Elsewhere post-birth errors (such as infection, jaundice, meningitis or a failure to diagnose/treat congenital disorders or low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia)) might have been to blame, all of which points towards a more general claim of clinical negligence.
Understandably most parents are left emotionally distraught when having a diagnosis of cerebral palsy confirmed by clinical specialists, yet once they’ve started to come to terms with this they obviously will demand to learn whether or not it was avoidable at any part in the pregnancy/birth process.
Beneath we take a further look at what’s acknowledged from a legal perspective as justifiable grounds in which to launch a claim for personal injury compensation for a child having been born with CP in circumstances which might have been very different:
- Failure of medical staff to diagnose an infection in either the mother (or the infant) during the term of pregnancy
- Traumatic labour, where the child is starved of oxygen to the brain either before, during or after birth
- Delay in the delivery causing depravation of oxygen
- Failure to diagnose bleeding in the child’s brain (or a misdiagnosis)
- Failure to diagnose/subsequently treat jaundice
- Failure to diagnose/treat meningitis
- Failure to diagnose/treat hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar)
Why would I opt to seek compensation for cerebral palsy?
As well as seeking a degree of justice when you feel you’ve been left to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of what might well be officially looked upon as clinical negligence, successfully bringing individuals/collective parties to task in this unfortunate (yet sometimes unavoidable) situation will potentially provide a lifetime of financial security for the child, whilst enabling carers to provide their dependents with the best possible equipment and treatment going forward.
Physically, emotionally and financially the caring for (and supporting of) a child suffering from cerebral palsy can be incredibly challenging, which is why it’s so important to follow both your heart and your head and realistically look to cover the child’s needs throughout their life; a life and times which will demand ALL of the following from both the child and parent/carer’s viewpoint, and therefore requires the financial means to continually fund these various elements;
- Occupational therapy
- Speech and language therapy
- Assistive technology and equipment
- Appropriate accommodation for the child and their family
- Special educational needs
- Loss of earnings
- Professional costs associated with managing the award of compensation
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