Admission of liability, judgment and interim payments after neonatal jaundice mistakes cause kernicterus

Admission of liability, judgment and interim payments after neonatal jaundice mistakes cause kernicterus

Boyes Turner’s specialist kernicterus lawyers secured an admission of liability (fault), judgment, and interim payments for a boy whose kernicterus brain damage was caused by negligent hospital care.

Our client was born prematurely and admitted to the hospital’s neonatal unit (NNU). Whilst on the NNU he developed jaundice, a common condition in newborn babies, which often appears as yellow discolouration of the skin, eyes and urine. The yellow colouring that is seen in neonatal jaundice is caused by high levels of yellow coloured pigment called bilirubin. Bilirubin is a natural substance which breaks down fats in the body and helps digestion, but a newborn baby’s liver may struggle to process high levels of bilirubin in the first few weeks of life. Increased bilirubin in the blood is known as hyperbilirubinaemia. If bilirubin levels are allowed to increase to dangerous levels, unprocessed toxic bilirubin can cause damage to the baby’s brain. This type of brain damage is called kernicterus.

Kernicterus is preventable. In fact, it is a ‘never event’, meaning that it should never be allowed to happen with good medical care. If a newborn baby develops signs of jaundice their bilirubin levels should be monitored. If the bilirubin in their blood increases rapidly or beyond safe levels, the baby must be treated with phototherapy (light treatment) or exchange blood transfusion if the condition doesn’t resolve or is severe.

In this case, our client was premature. Babies who are born premature have a higher risk of kernicterus, so when our client developed signs of jaundice he should have been carefully monitored and treated with phototherapy. This would have avoided any permanent damage, but instead, our client’s increasing bilirubin levels were left untreated. He suffered kernicterus brain damage from bilirubin toxicity and has permanent disability from cerebral palsy.

We put our client’s claim to the defendant hospital. They admitted that their staff’s negligent failure to treat our client’s jaundice with phototherapy was the cause of his cerebral palsy. 
We secured a liability judgment and interim (part) payments to meet our client’s immediate needs until he reaches an age where his ongoing disability arising from his cerebral palsy can be assessed. We will then work with his family and our experts to value his claim before negotiating a compensation settlement.

If you are caring for a child or young adult with cerebral palsy or neurological disability caused by medical negligence and would like to find out more about making a compensation claim, contact us by email at

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