The Financial and Emotional Costs of Cerebral Palsy

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one out of every 303 children born in the United States will be stricken with Cerebral Palsy. Thousands of new parents face this reality each year, and over 500,000 Americans suffer from the condition.

Cerebral Palsy is a group of medical disorders which affects a person’s ability to properly control their muscles or keep their balance. Other medical conditions stemming from Cerebral Palsy include hearing loss, problems with speech and intellectual disabilities (known in the past as mental retardation). Depending on the case, these symptoms range from mild to severe. In the most severe cases, the patient needs to be institutionalized.

The essential care and treatment of a person afflicted with Cerebral Palsy carries a tremendous financial commitment. According to the CDC, medical costs for children born with the condition are ten times higher than for their non-affected counterparts. The CDC has also estimated that the lifetime cost of caring for an individual with Cerebral Palsy is over one million dollars.

The emotional cost is harder to establish. Families are subjected to all forms of stress and emotional trauma as they care for their loved one, including the fear they may not be able to afford or continue the level of care needed by the patient. Sadly, there is no way to put a dollar figure on the anxiety and grief families can suffer while performing the intensive task of caregiver.

According to the CDC, Cerebral Palsy can be triggered either by an abnormal development of a fetal brain or damage to a growing brain. In many cases this damage or abnormality occurs naturally. There are instances however where the medical team, while providing care and treatment during the pregnancy, is at fault. The improper use of forceps, vacuums, and delayed (or mismanaged) caesarian sections have all been linked to the development.

Just how often the cause and onset of Cerebral Palsy can be traced to medical malpractice is the subject of an intense dispute between the legal and medical communities, but there is no doubt the costs involved are huge. In June of 2012, a jury in Baltimore awarded the parents of child a record breaking settlement of $55 million dollars after deciding the medical condition was a direct result of oxygen deprivation caused by an unduly delayed caesarian section.

In 2003, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACAP) issued a report entitled “Neonatal Encephopathy and Cerebral Palsy” (NEACP) in which they attempted to establish medical criteria for when a lawsuit to determine malpractice would be allowable. In concluding her 2003 article “Can We Prevent Cerebral Palsy?” for the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Karin Nelson wrote that lawsuits related to Cerebral Palsy contributed to the high cost of medical malpractice insurance.

Many lawyers have argued that the standards set forth by NEACP are unduly narrow. Furthermore, even in cases where the NEACP’s standards might be viewed as acceptable, there are investigated cases on record where medical staff have taken inaccurate readings or even mislabeled blood samples.

This medical condition is a neurological disorder which carries with it a tremendously heavy financial and emotional cost. For the parents who face the unimaginable challenges of caring for a child born with Cerebral Palsy, it is important that they retain a highly skilled attorney who has extensive experience in medical malpractice as it regards to this condition. It is not fair for parents to bear the burden alone if avoidable medical error is to blame.