Ask Marvin Lundy About Birth Injury: Cerebral Palsy

Nothing can prepare you for the shock of learning that your baby has a disability.  In an instant, your life, your relationships and the dreams of your child’s future can be shattered. Now, imagine finding out that the disability was caused by your doctor’s negligence.

Yet, this happens thousands of times every year – through the misuse of medical equipment, the prescription of a harmful drug, misdiagnosis or rough handling of an infant during childbirth.

One of the most devastating of these disabilities is Cerebral Palsy (CP), a neurological disorder that permanently affects movement and muscle coordination. More than 8,000 babies are diagnosed with CP every year, requiring lifelong therapy and treatment.

Cerebral palsy is caused by a variety of factors, including birth disease, trauma and birth injury cause by doctor error. The following article will help you to understand CP and determine if you or your baby may have been the victim of negligent medical treatment.


CP is characterized by a lack of muscle control or coordination. According to the March of Dimes, “Some children with CP may have delays in learning to roll over, sit, crawl or walk.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that parents contact a doctor if they see any of these signs:

  • A child more than two months old who has difficulty controlling her head when picked up or has stiff legs that cross or “scissor” when picked up
  • A child more than six months who reaches with only one hand while keeping the other in a fist
  • A child more than 10 months old who crawls by pushing off with one hand and leg while dragging the opposite hand and leg
  • A child more than 12 months old who cannot crawl or cannot stand with support

Cerebral palsy is not caused by damage to the muscles or nerves, but rather damage to the parts of the brain that control movement during development (prenatal). The causes can occur while the fetus is developing inside the womb (congenital), due to injuries caused to the infant during birth, and in rare occasions after birth:

Congenital Causes:

According to United Cerebral Palsy, approximately 70 percent of CP cases are caused by brain injury to the fetus while it is developing inside the womb.  These injuries can be caused by:

  • Infections to the mother including rubella (German measles), cytomegalovirus, a mild viral infection; and chorioamnionitis, a bacterial infection of the membranes around the fetus.
  • Toxoplasmosis, a disease caused by parasites found in many species of animals, especially cats, and which can be contracted by improper handling of cat litter or feces
  • Rh disease is another risk factor for brain damage and consequently CP. This condition occurs when the blood types of the mother and fetus are incompatible.
  • A lack of oxygen to the developing fetus that results when the placenta is not functioning properly or when it detaches from the wall of the uterus before delivery.

Your physician is responsible for counseling you regarding these risk factors and monitoring your pregnancy to limit the risk to you and your child. Failure to do so can have lasting consequences.

Birth Injury:

The birthing process is a critical time and must be managed properly by your doctor. Approximately 10 to 20 percent of CP cases are due to brain injury during birthing. These can be caused by fetal distress, seizures or changes in the fetal heart rate. Your physician may need to conduct a cesarean section in the event of fetal distress. Failure to do so may construe negligence.

Brain damage can also occur when there is a prolapsed cord, which is when the umbilical cord wraps around the child’s neck, cutting off oxygen to the brain. Other causes include an excessive use of vacuum extraction and rough handling with forceps.

Your doctor also needs to take factors into account that could cause a difficult delivery, including a high birth weight that could compromise normal vaginal delivery or jaundice in the infant. The mother’s health conditions such as high blood pressure or toxemia, a serious medical condition that usually affects women after 20 weeks of pregnancy also need to be managed. If toxemia is left undiagnosed and untreated, the continuous increase in blood pressure can lead to deadly complications for both mother and baby.

Failure to monitor these conditions properly can increase the risk to you and your child. If you believe that any of these factors was improperly managed by your physician, you need to seek legal counsel.


It is better to think of management, rather than curing CP. In general, the earlier treatment begins the better chance children have of overcoming developmental disabilities or learning new ways to accomplish the tasks that challenge them.

According to the National Institutes of Health, treatment for CP 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.


It is common for the parents of a child born with CP to feel intense shame, guilt and sadness. “Why did this happen to me?” and “What did I do to cause this?” are questions often asked. Remember, it’s not your fault. Your physician is responsible for upholding a standard of care, and advising you on how to take proper care of yourself during your pregnancy.

A lifetime of care is expensive and all consuming. It can be overwhelming, both financially and emotionally. If your healthcare provider failed to adhere to established professional standards, you may be entitled to damages to help you manage the burden.

If you believe that you have been the victim of improper treatment, you need to follow these steps below to get the help you need:

  • Immediately contact another physician to assess your child’s condition. Explain to the doctor how the injuries occurred and be sure to ask what further treatment is necessary for your child.
  • Gather information. Obtain a copy of your child’s medical records. Also, write down any medication your child has been prescribed or any treatment he is undergoing.
  • Contact an attorney.

If you have any questions, please contact the birth injury lawyers at Lundy Law. We’ll help you to determine a course of action. You deserve peace of mind and your child’s future may depend on it.