The term cerebral palsy describes a group of neurological conditions that permanently affect muscle movement, tone and coordination. The condition may also cause learning difficulties, impaired vision, speech problems and difficulty swallowing.
Cerebral palsy is usually caused by abnormal brain development in the womb due to reduced blood or oxygen supply, maternal infections or a foetal stroke. The condition can also be due to an injury to the baby’s brain during or shortly after birth.
There is no cure for cerebral palsy, but there are several treatments available to ease some of the symptoms and help people live as independently as possible. The symptoms can differ from person to person and range from walking awkwardly to severe cases needing lifelong care and assistance.
If you believe that your child’s condition was due to avoidable medical mistakes, you might be able to make a cerebral palsy claim. If your case is successful, the compensation award will cover pain, suffering and past and future financial expenses and could amount to a considerable sum.
Can I make a cerebral palsy claim?
Unfortunately, many cases of cerebral palsy are due to careless errors committed by healthcare professionals during pregnancy and childbirth. This may include failure to detect or treat an infection or improper use of forceps and vacuum extractors.
If your child has cerebral palsy due to a medical error, you might be able to make a cerebral palsy claim. The compensation can provide the financial support you need to take care of your child.
To help you make a successful birth injury claim, your cerebral palsy lawyer will consult with medical experts in the field to prove the following points:
Duty of care
All doctors and medical staff have a fundamental duty of care towards patients to behave in a way expected from skilful and knowledgeable healthcare professionals with the same level of training and in the same circumstances.
Breach of duty
Cerebral palsy solicitors must show that whatever the doctor did or failed to do fell below the reasonable standard expected from a competent professional. To prove a breach of duty, your solicitor must show that your doctor failed to meet the standard of a reasonable body of practitioners skilled in the field. This is known as the Bolam test.
Certain bodies, such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), also publish guidelines and advice on the appropriate treatment and care of people and what might be seen as negligence.
Besides proving that your doctor failed to meet a reasonable standard of care, you must also establish that this directly caused the cerebral palsy disorder in a reasonably foreseeable way.
You will need relevant evidence to establish that you and your child suffered the damages for which you claim cerebral palsy compensation. Damages may include physical and psychological injury and financial loss, such as lost wages and future medical needs. The compensation award will aim to put you into the position you would have been if the negligent act had not occurred.
Some forms of physical abuse, such as shaken baby syndrome, can also lead to cerebral palsy. In this case, you could claim through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) within two years after reporting the incident to the police.
If your solicitor can establish these four elements, you are likely to make a successful cerebral palsy negligence claim. Your case could be against an NHS trust or a private healthcare provider.
What is cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy is the name for a group of lifelong disorders that affect muscle tone, movement and the ability to maintain a posture. It is caused by damage to the immature, developing brain before, during, or in the first months after birth.
According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the incidence of cerebral palsy in the UK is about 2 per 1,000 live births. Typically, the signs and symptoms are first recognised during infancy and preschool years, usually leading to progressive disability.
The symptoms of the disorder vary from person to person. An individual with mild cerebral palsy might only walk awkwardly, while a severe case might prevent a person from being able to walk at all and may need lifelong care and assistance.
Besides problems with movement and posture, many individuals also have other related conditions. Some of the most common signs and symptoms include:
- Delays in reaching developmental milestones such as sitting by eight months
- Weak arms or legs
- Random, uncontrolled movements
- Moving stiffly or being too floppy
- Walking on tip-toes
- Swallowing difficulties
- Intellectual disabilities
- Vision, speech, or hearing difficulties
- Changes in the spine, such as scoliosis
- Joint problems, such as contractures
- Poor balance and coordination
There is currently no cure for cerebral palsy, but there are some available treatments to help people live as independently as possible, such as:
- Physical therapy such as exercises and stretching to improve movement problems
- Speech therapy to help with communication and swallowing difficulties
- Occupational therapies to help you and your child with carrying out everyday tasks
- Medicine for muscle stiffness and other symptoms
- In some cases, surgical intervention
If you have any concerns about your child’s development, you should contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible. If they are diagnosed with cerebral palsy that was caused by medical negligence, you might be able to make a cerebral palsy claim.
Are there different types of cerebral palsy?
Based on the location of brain damage, there are four main types of disorders for which you could claim cerebral palsy compensation:
Spastic cerebral palsy
This is the most common form and affects about 70-80% of people with cerebral palsy. The muscles of people with this type of disorder feel stiff, and their movements are awkward and jerky. Spasticity is due to hypertonia, or increased muscle tone and can lead to difficulties with daily tasks such as:
- Getting dressed
- Manipulating objects
- Eating or drinking
- Washing and toileting oneself
- Standing and sitting upright
- Walking and running
Spasticity can also affect the muscles in the tongue, face, or vocal folds and result in slurred speech, a hoarse or tight voice and slow or imprecise oral movements. There are three different types of spastic cerebral palsy, described by what parts of the body are affected:
- Spastic diplegia/diparesis mainly affects the legs, while the arms are less affected or not affected at all.
- Spastic hemiplegia/hemiparesis mainly affects only one side of the body.
- Spastic quadriplegia/quadriparesis affects all four limbs, the trunk and the face.
Dyskinetic cerebral palsy
Dyskinetic cerebral palsy causes abnormalities with balance, involuntary movement, drooling and fluctuating muscle tone. There are different forms of dyskinesia that result from injury to slightly different parts of the brain:
Dystonia is characterised by involuntary muscle contractions resulting in repetitive and sustained movements, awkward postures, and rapid or slow movements that are often painful.
Athetosis is described by slow, continuous, writhing movements that are present at rest and made worse by attempting to move. The muscle tone can fluctuate between floppy and excessive, leading to the inability to maintain a posture, sit or stand. Individuals with athetosis may also experience difficulties eating, drinking, breathing and speaking.
Chorea involves brief, irregular, abrupt and unpredictable movements. Individuals may appear fidgety or clumsy and may have trouble with speaking and swallowing.
Ataxic cerebral palsy
This is the least common form of cerebral palsy and is caused by damage to the cerebellum. Ataxic movements are characterised by clumsiness, imprecision or instability and incoordination. People with ataxia may experience:
- Unsteady, shaky movements or tremors
- Difficulties with maintaining balance
- Difficulty performing tasks that require precise finger movements
- Tremor and shakiness in the arms
- Difficulty walking
- Difficulty speaking with unusual accelerations or pauses between syllables
- Slow eye movements
- Difficulty swallowing
Mixed cerebral palsy
Some people have symptoms of more than one type of cerebral palsy, which is usually caused by damage to more than one brain area. The most common type is spastic-dyskinetic cerebral palsy.
If your child has been diagnosed with any of the above conditions, you might be able to make a cerebral palsy claim.
How is cerebral palsy diagnosed?
The signs and symptoms of cerebral palsy are not always obvious after birth and usually become apparent within a few months to a year. In some mild cases, it may not be possible to diagnose it before the child is a few years old.
Your doctor will evaluate your child’s signs and symptoms, monitor their growth and development and conduct a physical exam. If there are reasons to suspect cerebral palsy, they will refer you to a pediatric neurologist or another professional trained in treating children with brain and nervous system conditions.
Some early signs of cerebral palsy in children under six months of age may include:
- Feeling stiff or floppy
- The head lags when you pick the baby up
- When you pick the baby up, the legs get stiff, and they cross or scissor them
- When cradled in your arms, the baby overextends the head or neck, acting as if pushing away from you
In a baby older than six months of age, early signs of cerebral palsy include:
- Not rolling over in either direction
- Inability to bring the hands together
- Difficulty bringing the hands to the mouth
- Reaching out with only one hand while keeping the other in a fist
Diagnosing cerebral palsy at an early age is essential for the well-being of children and their families. Your doctor may order a series of tests to make a diagnosis and rule out other conditions, such as:
Brain-imaging technologies may be used to identify areas of damage or abnormal development in the brain. Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following tests:
- Cranial ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of the brain. Although it does not deliver a detailed image, it is quick and can provide a valuable preliminary assessment of the brain.
- An MRI test uses radio waves and a magnetic field to get detailed 3D or cross-sectional images of the brain. It can identify lesions and abnormalities in the brain, but it can take up to an hour to complete, so your child will need to receive a sedative or light anaesthesia beforehand.
- A CT scan takes several x-ray pictures to create a detailed brain image. It is pain-free, but your child must remain still for the entire time, so they would need to be sedated.
An EEG is used to record the electrical activity of your child’s brain to determine if they have epilepsy, one of the commonly associated disorders of cerebral palsy.
Additional tests may be used to rule out other medical conditions, including:
- An electromyogram (EMG) to measure the electrical activity of the muscles and detect abnormalities in muscle contraction.
- Blood, urine or skin tests to check for genetic or metabolic problems that may cause symptoms similar to cerebral palsy.
After diagnosing cerebral palsy, your doctor may use a rating scale tool to determine the degree to which mobility, balance and posture are affected. This information will be used to select a treatment that may benefit your child.
If your child’s disorder was due to medical negligence, you might be eligible for compensation. To find out if you have a valid cerebral palsy claim, you can enter your details into our online claim form or call 0800 678 1410 to speak to a friendly legal adviser.
What causes cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy is caused by the abnormal development of the brain or damage to certain brain areas that affect the child’s ability to control their muscles. There are several possible causes for this, some of which may entitle you to make a cerebral palsy claim:
Problems before birth
Cerebral palsy is usually caused by factors that affect the development of the baby’s brain while growing in the womb, such as:
- Gene mutations that affect the brain’s development
- Maternal infections that affect the developing foetus, such as cytomegalovirus, rubella, chickenpox or toxoplasmosis
- A foetal stroke may cause a disruption of blood supply to the developing brain
- Damage to the white matter in the brain due to a reduced oxygen supply called periventricular leukomalacia (PVL)
- Umbilical cord compression cutting the baby’s oxygen supply
Problems during or after birth
Cerebral palsy can also be due to damage to the baby’s brain during or shortly after birth, including:
- Failure to monitor the baby’s heartbeat
- A difficult birth causing asphyxiation and a temporary lack of oxygen to the brain
- An infection of the brain, such as meningitis
- A very low blood sugar level
- A traumatic injury to the baby’s head from a road traffic accident, fall or physical abuse
- Choking or drowning, which may starve the brain of oxygen
- A neonatal stroke
- Incorrect use of instruments such as forceps during delivery
- Delivering the baby too late
- Failure to successfully carry out a caesarean section
Although these risk factors do not cause cerebral palsy, their presence may lead to an increased chance of suffering brain damage:
- Being born prematurely
- Having a low birth weight
- Blood clotting problems
- Being part of multiple births, such as a twin or triplet
- Being a male
- The mother smoking, drinking a lot of alcohol or taking drugs during the pregnancy
- The mother or father is under 20 or the mother over 40
If your baby has an increased risk of developing the condition, your doctor may recommend regular check-ups to look for signs of cerebral palsy during the first two years of their life.
If your baby was diagnosed with the condition, a cerebral palsy lawyer might be able to help you claim compensation.
Can cerebral palsy be caused by medical negligence?
A diagnosis of cerebral palsy is devastating, especially if you learn it was due to an avoidable condition or medical mistake. If a medical professional has failed to provide a reasonable standard of care, you might be eligible to make a cerebral palsy negligence claim.
In most cases, the condition is due to abnormal brain development, but the disorder can sometimes be caused by damage to the child’s brain during or after birth. Forms of medical negligence that can lead to cerebral palsy compensation include:
- Failure to detect or adequately treat infections such as meningitis;
- Preventable or misdiagnosed infections in the mother such as herpes or toxoplasmosis;
- Failure to diagnose and treat group B strep, a bacterium that occurs naturally in around 25% of women. If passed to the baby during delivery, it can cause sepsis and cerebral palsy;
- Incorrect usage of forceps or vacuum extractors during delivery, which may cause skull fractures and brain damage;
- Failure to appropriately monitor or act upon the baby’s heartbeat during labour;
- Failure to successfully carry out a caesarean section and delivering the baby too late;
- Failure to detect foetal distress such as lack of oxygen;
- Undiagnosed or delayed treatment of jaundice and other liver or kidney problems;
- Dangerously low blood sugar levels in the baby that could have been prevented;
- Medication errors;
- Failure to respond properly to the umbilical cord being wrapped around the baby’s neck.
A cerebral palsy solicitor will investigate how your child developed cerebral palsy. If there is evidence of medical negligence, they will contact the staff responsible for your treatment and help you make a cerebral palsy claim.
How to make a cerebral palsy negligence claim?
Misdiagnosis, delayed treatment or mishandling before and during delivery can have catastrophic consequences on a baby’s brain and may lead to cerebral palsy. If you believe that your baby’s diagnosis was due to medical negligence, the first thing you should do is contact a cerebral palsy lawyer.
They will offer you a free initial consultation to discuss your case and whether you have a valid cerebral palsy claim. If your claim has merit, the solicitor will discuss what funding options are available to cover your costs, including a no win no fee service.
Your cerebral palsy solicitor will look into your case in detail and gather evidence to support your claim, such as:
- Medical records detailing the treatments you received during pregnancy and delivery
- Any documents related to the baby’s health or injury during delivery
- Photographs of any visible trauma to the baby’s head
- Witness testimonies from medical staff who assisted you during pregnancy and labour
- Evidence from independent medical professionals in the field
- A needs assessment report stating your child’s future medical and care needs
- Financial records of any out-of-pocket expenses you incurred due to your child’s condition
- Your detailed notes about how the cerebral palsy affected your life and the baby’s
After gathering all the details of your cerebral palsy negligence claim, your solicitor will contact the defendant and inform them of your intentions to take legal action. If they admit liability, you may be entitled to receive interim payments, which can help you cover private medical care and other expenses before your claim fully settles.
If they deny responsibility or you cannot settle, you may have to issue court proceedings. Negotiations will usually continue until the trial date, and more than 95% of all claims conclude without going to court. If you must argue your case before a judge, your cerebral palsy solicitor will offer support and advice and talk you through what will happen, making sure you feel as comfortable as possible.
Every hospital must notify NHS Resolution, the NHS insurance company, if a baby has suffered a brain injury at birth. NHS Resolution will carry out an early investigation and determine whether a cerebral palsy claim might arise.
If NHS Resolution approaches you after the birth of your child, you should seek legal advice straight away. You may be entitled to claim substantial cerebral palsy compensation.
How long do I have to make a cerebral palsy claim?
The time limit to make a cerebral palsy claim on behalf of a child does not begin until their 18th birthday. Starting from their 18th birthday, they will have another three years to claim compensation themselves if nobody has acted on their behalf.
However, if an adult lacks the mental capacity to conduct legal proceedings, which could be the case if they have cerebral palsy, a parent or another adult acting as a litigation friend can claim on their behalf. In these circumstances, there is no time limit.
If your child was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible. This will make getting evidence and speaking to witnesses much easier. Furthermore, your cerebral palsy solicitor will make sure you get access to the best medical treatments and may be able to secure interim payments for ongoing financial expenses.
How much cerebral palsy compensation could I claim?
The amount of cerebral palsy compensation you might receive depends on many different factors. Generally, the more severe the condition, the greater the settlement you could receive. This aims to put you back in a financial position you would have been in had the cerebral palsy negligence not occurred.
Cerebral palsy claims take into account the child’s lifelong needs, which means they could settle for millions of pounds. The settlement often consists of an initial lump sum followed by regular monthly or annual payments.
Numerous factors help determine the best cerebral palsy compensation award, including your financial losses and expenses such as:
- The child’s past, present and future medical costs
- Adaptations to your home and vehicle to accommodate their disability
- Cost of physical therapy and other professional care support such as occupational therapy
- Cost of any specialist equipment such as wheelchairs
- The need for care and assistance throughout the child’s entire life
- Special education needs
- Travel expenses and accommodation needs
- Lost wages, including the estimated loss of future earning potential
Besides financial losses, your cerebral palsy lawyer will also consider general damages to calculate a suitable compensation award. These include:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional pain and suffering
- Physical and mental disability
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Inability to pursue a hobby and other activities
- Reduced quality of life
- Loss of consortium
- Any other ways in which cerebral palsy impacted the life of your child and family
Every claim is unique, and the compensation award varies from case to case. In many cases, the full extent of the child’s cerebral palsy will not become evident until they are older or may worsen over time. Your solicitor will evaluate these and ensure your settlement considers these possibilities.
The Judicial College sets out the following guidelines for cerebral palsy compensation awards for general damages. It is important to remember that these figures do not take into account any financial losses, which would be added on top and can make up the bulk of the final compensation award.
- £2,210 to £12,770 for relatively mild brain damage, which has a minimal effect on the victim’s quality of life
- £15,320 to £43,060 for moderate brain damage affecting concentration and memory
- £43,060 to £205,580 for personality changes, moderate to severe damage to the intellect and elevated risk of epilepsy
- £205,580 to £264,650 for severe brain damage causing an array of physical and mental disabilities and leaving the victim dependent upon others
- £264,650 to £403,990 for very severe brain damage impacting the speech and vision and needing full-time care
- £10,640 to £26,290 for temporary and relatively mild forms of epilepsy
- £54,830 to £131,370 for moderately severe epilepsy, which impacts work and social life and leads to behavioural problems
- £102,000 to £150,110 for the most severe and debilitating forms of epilepsy
As mentioned above, these compensation awards refer to a lump sum awarded for general damages. You will also receive a sum to compensate for all the past loses and expenses you incurred and a sum to cover all the future expected losses and expenses. The total cerebral palsy compensation can be valued anywhere between £1 million and upwards.
How long will a cerebral palsy claim take?
Due to their complex nature, cerebral palsy negligence claims can take a long time to settle, usually between three and seven years. This is partly because, in many cases, medical experts cannot state the full degree of disability your child will suffer until they reach a certain age.
All claims against the NHS are facilitated by NHS Resolution, an insurance company set up by the government to deal exclusively with negligence cases against NHS trusts. According to them, between 2013 and 2018, they settled 723 claims that were valued at over £1m on an average of five years (source).
Several factors will determine how fast your cerebral palsy claim might conclude, such as:
- The type and severity of the disorder
- Whether there are ongoing symptoms or the full extent of the cerebral palsy can be established
- How long you need to gather evidence to support your claim
- Whether the NHS or your private doctor admits liability
- The estimated value of your claim
- Whether you can settle or have to take your case to trial
Your cerebral palsy lawyer will try to prove as early as possible that your child’s condition was due to medical negligence. If the facts are clear, the NHS or your private healthcare provider should admit liability within a year or so. Interim payments can be staged before your claim concludes to help you with the cost of ongoing treatments and other financial needs.