What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a group of permanent neurological disorders affecting movement and co-ordination - cerebral relating to the brain, and palsy referring to various types of paralysis.

It is the most common cause of disability in early childhood. One in 400 children will be diagnosed with cerebral palsy every year as a result of injury to the brain before, during or shortly after birth.

Cerebral Palsy varies significantly from person to person; some children or adults may have a mild form, while others will be severely disabled. Common impairments affect muscle control, tone, reflexes, posture and balance.

What causes cerebral palsy?

There is no one main cause of cerebral palsy but it is due to an injury to the brain. Some of the more frequent reasons for injury include:

  • Limited or interrupted oxygen supply
  • Bleed on the baby’s brain or trauma to the head
  • Mother catching an infection while pregnant, such as rubella or chicken pox
  • Genetic changes which affect brain development
  • Stroke in the womb or after birth
  • Premature or difficult birth

Other rarer causes of cerebral palsy are blood type incompatibility and infections such as meningitis.

Are there different types of cerebral palsy?

Because of the sophistication of the brain, cerebral palsy is a complex neurological disorder with a range of subdivisions. But generally speaking, there are three main types of cerebral palsy. Some people may experience a mix of all three types.

  • Spastic –the most common types of CP where muscle tone is tight and stiff, reducing range of movement. This can be painful, especially when muscles go into spasm involuntarily. Spastic CP generally affects walking and reflexes.
  • Dyskinetic or Athetoid – sometimes called non-spastic CP where muscles have fluctuating tone. This can lead to involuntary movement in the face, torso and limbs; there may be lack of control over the tongue, vocal cords, and breathing. Dyskinetic CP can cause floppy limbs and problems with posture.
  • Ataxic – this generally affects balance, co-ordination and spatial awareness. People with Ataxic CP can usually walk but movement may be shaky or tremored.

Depending on where in the brain the injury occurred, CP can affect different parts of the body and you may hear the terms hemiplegia (1 side of the body), monoplegia (1 limb), diplegia (2 limbs), or quadriplegia (all 4 limbs).

Are there any risk factors for cerebral palsy?

Prematurity, a low birth weight under 2.5lbs, and twin or multiple births increase the risk of a child having cerebral palsy. Maternal and paternal age may also increase risk, especially if the mother is under 20 or over 40.

Other risks include poorly treated maternal hyperthyroidism, early onset pre-eclampsia, and foetal growth restrictions.

How will I know if my child has cerebral palsy?

Symptoms may not be obvious until a child is a few years old, but concerns may be raised if a child is not meeting gross motor milestones such as sitting by eight months or walking by 18 months.

Other possible signs include:

  • Stiff or floppy limbs

  • Weak arms or legs
  • Fidgety, jerky or clumsy movements
  • Walking on tiptoes
  • Problems with vision, hearing, speech and swallowing

There are a number of associated conditions a person with cerebral palsy may experience. Half of people with CP will have a learning disability, a third may have epilepsy and one in four have behavioural problems. Some have issues with sleep, communication, feeding, and continence.

If you suspect your child has cerebral palsy or are concerned with their development, your GP should discuss their medical history and birth with you and refer them for examinations if CP is suspected. Diagnosis may be by way of brain scans, such as cranial ultrasound, MRI or CT scans to examine the brain. Other tests include an EEG to monitor brain activity, EMG to look at muscles and nerves, and blood tests.

What is the prognosis for a child diagnosed with cerebral palsy?

There is no cure for cerebral palsy but the initial brain injury does not get worse with age. Most live well into adulthood and can lead fulfilled, independent lives with the right support. However, cerebral palsy can put a strain on the body, particularly bones and joints.

Children with cerebral palsy should have medical needs assessed by community care teams and receive support from the Department of Health and local authority. This may include NHS-funded physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, or occupational therapy. Any care plans should be continually reassessed with age or as needs change.

Why Choose Us?

We’ve handled many different types of medical negligence cases and provided expert advice for over 20 years.

  • We offer FREE, no obligation legal advice all throughout
  • Our processes are hassle free & we handle all the paperwork
  • We won't charge you a penny until your case has been settled

Our birth injury expert:

Caroline Moore

Managing Director/Head of Sheffield Office

Can you sue for cerebral palsy?

Not all cerebral palsy cases are caused by medical error. However, in tragic cases involving substandard care, a medical negligence claim may be made to support the family with ongoing care needs.

Negligent care resulting in cerebral palsy has a devastating and life-long effect on the child, their family and carers. It can be difficult for parents to accept the injury to their child could have been avoided and they undoubtedly want answers and accountability.

Lack of oxygen at birth or immediately after is the most common reason why families claim compensation for cerebral palsy. This could be for several reasons, such as delays to delivery, particularly where the mother is suffering from issues with the placenta, such as a low-lying placental abruption (where part of the placenta starts to come away from the wall of the womb), placenta previa and placenta accreta (where the placenta grows too deeply into the womb wall).

Other substandard care occurs where there is a missed breech birth, or complications with the umbilical cord are not diagnosed. Also, there could be birth injury negligence with failure to monitor the baby’s heart rate and identify signs of distress, failure to diagnose maternal infection in pregnancy, or misuse of drugs in labour. Postnatally, errors may include failure to recognise and treat jaundice (where baby’s skin turns yellow owing to liver problems) or infection such as meningitis.

Medical errors of this nature can be just as difficult for NHS staff to comprehend and live with the human cost of their mistakes. However, there are always lessons to be learned to prevent future harm to other children.

What could a cerebral palsy claim be worth?

Birth injuries continue to be one of the highest value areas of medical negligence claims. In 2019/20, around 180 new claims against the NHS were made for birth injuries resulting in cerebral palsy. However, the compensation paid out was in excess of £700m. A single claim could exceed £20m due to the severity of the injury, increased life expectancy, and increased costs of care and accommodation.

A successful compensation claim will include first and foremost damages for pain and suffering, i.e., the original injury. Special damages - those financial responsibilities and expenses acquired due to the injury – can increase the value of a claim. This includes any costs for on-going care, treatment, rehabilitation, mobility aids or assistive technology (e.g., communication devices), housing adaptations, transport to and from appointments, as well as loss of earnings. The form of compensation usually takes the form of both a lump sum settlement and annual payments.

How do annual payments for cerebral palsy claims work?

These annual payments, known as periodical payments, are made to support the ongoing care and, in some cases, case management costs of a child/adult with CP. The advantage of these annual payments are that they are indexed linked to ASHE (Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings) for carers and so they keep in line with inflation. This means that you will continue to receive monies for ongoing care throughout the lifetime of the Claimant. These annual payments may increase at certain stages of a claimant’s life, to reflect any increase in ongoing care costs as the claimant get older. This gives additional peace of mind that compensation will not run out.

Is there a time limit to cerebral palsy claims?

Usually, there is a three-year limit from the time of injury for medical negligence claims. For claims relating to children, this is three years after their 18th birthday (i.e., their 21st birthday). However, if the child does not have – and will never have – the mental capacity, there is no time limit to the claim. Our director, Caroline Moore, made a successful claim for the oldest known case in the local area, relating to a birth injury in the 1960s.

How can I fund a cerebral palsy claim?

Your child’s case can either be funded by government funding known as Legal Aid Funding (which is only available to firms which hold a Legal Aid Franchise) or by a Conditional Fee Agreement. At Medical Solicitors we do not offer Legal Aid funding for cerebral palsy cases, despite having long experience in that kind of funded work previously, as there can be disadvantages to Legal Aid Funding.

The advantage of Legal Aid Funding is that the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) will pay the costs of your child’s case as it proceeds. If the case does not proceed, after initial investigation, then the LAA will meet all costs and expenses incurred at lower legal aid rates, up to the limit of funding on the Certificate.   

However, there are various disadvantages to Legal Aid Funding which are as follows:

  • LAA will require evidence that your child’s case has merits both in terms of proving negligence, but also that any brain damage has occurred because of such negligence just prior to birth, around the time of birth or shortly after birth. Often, evidence of cerebral palsy does not emerge until between ages 18-24 months. Quite often the LAA may reject an application as premature if your child has not met these milestones
  • It is usually limited and, if so, applications to the Legal Aid Agency for permission to proceed further at various stages can cause delays in a case
  • Choice of experts is limited. This is the most serious disadvantage. The LAA will only authorise instruction of experts at a very low hourly rate. However, most very good medical experts, with a proven track record in clinical negligence claims, charge higher rates than this. Your opponent has no restrictions imposed on them in relation to experts’ hourly rates. To this extent, being funded by the LAA can place a Claimant at disadvantage.
  • Costs/Funding Criteria. The LAA weighs up the amount of anticipated compensation against the costs of bringing a claim. The costs of investigating a claim can quickly mount up. There may come a point where the LAA will refuse further funding and a Claimant would then have to enter into a Conditional Fee Agreement.  

What are the advantages to a Conditional Fee Agreement?

  • We will arrange to put insurance with funding in place to give you peace of mind. You/your child will not be required to make any upfront payments for costs and expenses of the case during the investigation. Although (as with legal aid funding) you, as Litigation Friend for your child, are primarily responsible for the firm’s costs and expenses, the firm will only claim costs if the case succeeds. Payment of costs and expenses will be negotiated directly with the Defendant at that point.
  •  A Conditional Fee Agreement gives us freedom to instruct experts of our own choice, and a case can progress more easily and quickly without the restrictions of LAA funding.
  • If the case does not succeed, the firm will write off the value of all of our time. The expenses of the case are insured and would be paid by the insurer. By comparison, if your child has a certificate from the LAA, your solicitor will get some payment for their time - win or lose. To that extent, you may consider that solicitors acting under a Conditional Fee Agreement have a true vested interest in achieving a positive and speedy result for you.

Potential disadvantages of a Conditional Fee Agreement:

  • Success fees – most specialist clinical negligence solicitors will specify that they will deduct success fees from compensation at the end of the case if the case is won. However, such deduction only occurs if your child’s case is successful and would have to be approved by court as being reasonable and proportionate;

  • The only real disadvantage, which is not a big one, is that the insurance premium will be deductible from compensation at the end of the day. However, the insurance premium is kept proportionate to the value of compensation awarded. Any deductions for success fee and/or insurance have to be approved by court before they are deducted from any compensation award. 

 

What Our Expert Says:

Negligent care resulting in cerebral palsy has a devastating and life-long effect on the child, their family and carers. It can be difficult for parents to accept the injury to their child could have been avoided and they undoubtedly want answers and accountability.
Our team of specialists can help support your child who has suffered avoidable brain injury at birth.”

How Medical Solicitors Can Help You

We have been supporting and winning compensation for our clients for over two decades. Operating throughout the UK, we have a team of 15 friendly staff, made up of qualified solicitors, legal executives, legal assistants and administrative staff who are here to listen and guide you through your clinical and medical negligence claim.
  • We offer FREE, no obligation advice

  • We can help determine if you have a claim

  • We help you get your claim started and guide you throughout

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Want to learn more about how we can help you? Get in touch

What’s Our Process

Medical Solicitors operates very differently from most other law firms. We won’t ask you to sign a contract straight away. First, we will take the time to understand your case, gather information, advise on the way forward, and if we believe you have a claim, offer a No Win, No Fee agreement.
  • Talk to us

    A claim starts with a no-obligation chat. We want to understand your case and if we can help. This can be done by email or telephone whichever you prefer.
  • We Advise

    We will advise you on the way forward. Whether that is raising a complaint with the health provider initially, or proceeding straight to obtaining medical records.
  • We Investigate

    A senior member of our team will review your case and decide if we can further investigate your claim for you.
  • We Take Action

    If we believe there is a case to investigate. We will offer you a NO Win, No Fee agreement.
  • We Keep you Informed

    As we progress your claim, we will keep you informed every step of the way.