Causes of cerebral palsy

To bring a claim of cerebral palsy through  medical negligence it has to be shown that mistakes were made, which in law, amount to medical negligence. Typically mistakes during the birth process will involve midwives or doctors failing to take proper account of evidence of a baby's distress whilst still in its mother's womb or in the birth canal.

Cerebral palsy can result from medical staff:

  • Failing to monitor the mother or child properly.
  • Failing to take account of warning signs such as a falling or unhealthy heartbeat, the presence of meconium and disproportionate pain.
  • Failing to deliver when it was called for either naturally, assisted (by forceps or ventouse for example) or by caesarean section.

Mistakes can also be made when the child is still being looked after in hospital, for example, in the Special Care Baby Unit.

If it is likely that mistakes were made during birth, it then has to be shown that those mistakes probably caused the birth injury which has resulted in cerebral palsy. To establish this we firstly look for signs of a baby's distress during the delivery and at birth. These can include indications such as:

  • Abnormal or dipping heart beat on the CTG monitor
  • Low APGAR scores at birth
  • Poor blood analysis results
  • Poor colour at birth
  • Poor heartbeat
  • A delay in natural breathing
  • Admission to SCBU
  • Convulsions in the first day or days after birth
  • Discharge from hospital will almost certainly be delayed.

Secondly, for a cerebral palsy claim, it has to be shown that the child has a pattern of injury that is associated with a lack of oxygen or oxygenated blood supply whilst still in the womb or birth canal.

Thirdly we will look for evidence of other organ damage such as damage to the kidneys or heart. These organs are also vulnerable to injury resulting from a deprivation of oxygen.

Where a claim might not be possible

There are many other causes of cerebral palsy such as infection, meningitis, encephalitis, extreme pre-maturity and genetic and developmental problems where it is not easy or indeed sometimes not possible to show that these result from any medical malpractice or medical negligence, although a delay in diagnosis will always be relevant.

Such cases have to be carefully investigated to see if there could be a link or whether the child's disability was unavoidable.

So very many parents have said to us over the years that even where a birth injury claim is not possible, they find the investigation and explanation that such investigation brings of enormous and lifelong benefit to them.

What happens if a child has died?

Sadly we see many cases of the avoidable death or stillbirth of a child during the birth process. We can help families in these circumstances by ensuring a proper investigation is held to prevent such a disaster happening to another family. Death of a child or a stillbirth attracts a modest award from the Court but it is also possible to claim for the parents for the loss of their child in certain circumstances.


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