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Cerebral Palsy Malpractice in Washington DC

Child with WalkerCerebral palsy is a movement disorder which results from damage to a baby's brain from oxygen loss during pregnancy or childbirth. The injury to the baby's developing brain permanently impairs their ability to control and coordinate the movement of muscles in the body. A high percentage of cerebral palsy cases are the direct result of medical negligence during labor and delivery. Each year about 10,000 new babies are delivered in Washington, DC hospitals. Despite the city's high quality of healthcare, a small handful of these District of Columbia newborns will invariably suffer oxygen deprivation during delivery and be diagnosed with cerebral palsy. At least half of these cerebral palsy cases will be linked to medical malpractice.

Overview of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is not a single condition but an umbrella term used to describe a group related physical movement disorders associated with abnormalities in the brain. All muscles movements in the body are directed and coordinated by impulse signals from the brain. When someone has cerebral palsy their brain is not able to send out normal movement signals to certain muscles. This internal neurologic malfunction results in permanent physical disabilities.

The physical disabilities and movement abnormalities caused by cerebral palsy can vary significantly depending on what type of CP is involved the severity. More severe cases of cerebral palsy can leave a person permanently confined to a wheelchair and unable to normally control any part of the body. CP also causes other problems such as cognitive impairment, epilepsy / seizures, and problems with speech and vision.

What Causes Cerebral Palsy?

All disorders under the cerebral palsy umbrella are the result of a very specific type of damage to the brain which results from oxygen deprivation occurring at some point during pregnancy or, more often, during labor and delivery. The brain requires constant oxygen or cells rapidly begin to decay and die. During pregnancy and childbirth babies are dependent on maternal oxygen delivered through the placenta. When maternal oxygen is momentarily cut off or restricted for even a brief period of time cells in the baby's brain can be permanently damaged before the brain is fully formed. This particular type of neurologic cell damage from oxygen loss permanently impairs the brain's ability to direct muscle movement. A lifetime of cerebral palsy is often caused by just hours or minutes of oxygen disruption.

Cerebral Palsy and Medical Malpractice

Cerebral palsy is caused by brain damage triggered by oxygen deprivation, but the more informative question is how and why the oxygen deprivation occurred. Oxygen deprivation during childbirth is an adverse event that can happen for a number of different reasons. As any mother can tell you, giving birth to a baby is an extremely difficult process that pushes babies and mothers to their physical limits with very little margin for error. There are a host of well-known obstetric complications that can occur during labor and delivery. Almost all of these complications have the potential to cause oxygen deprivation. Certain complications such as placental abnormalities and umbilical cord problems can directly cause loss of oxygen because they involve the maternal oxygen delivery system. Obstetric complications that do not involve the placenta and umbilical cord (shoulder dystocia or fetal macrosomia) can indirectly result in oxygen deprivation by causing abnormally prolonged and stressful labor.

The reason cerebral palsy gives rise to so many malpractice lawsuits is simple: brain damage from oxygen deprivation is something doctors can prevent. Under current medical standards doctors have the ability to diagnose and manage most obstetric complications and prevent harm to the baby. If a complication during labor and delivery threatens to disrupt maternal oxygen delivery the baby can almost always be saved from harm with a prompt emergency C-section delivery. Labor and delivery teams at a modern hospital can perform an emergency C-section in a matter of minutes. Moreover, diagnostic technologies such as electronic fetal monitoring devices allow doctors to identify early signs of oxygen disruption.

Cerebral Palsy Malpractice Laws in Washington DC

DC has its own body of laws that apply to cerebral palsy and other medical malpractice cases. For the most part the tort laws in DC are very favorable to plaintiffs and malpractice victims. For starters, DC courts have liberally interpreted the "discovery rule" for purposes of applying the statute of limitations on malpractice claims. This gives malpractice plaintiffs more time to file their case before it is time barred. The most significant perk of DC law for malpractice plaintiffs is that unlike most other states, there is no maximum cap on the amount of damages that a jury can award. This is particularly relevant to cerebral palsy cases which can generate huge verdicts.

Cerebral Palsy Lawsuits in Washington DC

Hundreds of medical malpractice lawsuits based on cerebral palsy get filed around the country every year. However, comparatively few cerebral palsy cases get filed in DC Courts. There are a number of reasons for this. First, few than 100 medical malpractice cases of any type get filed in DC annually. This is partly due to the limited population size and partly due to the fact that DC malpractice victims are often residents of Maryland or Virginia and chose to file their case in their homes states. Less than 5 cerebral palsy cases a year (and sometimes not even that) get filed in DC. Moreover, as we said, there is no cap on birth injury case in the District of Columbia which makes these cases easier to settle (with confidentiality clauses, they never see the light of day). Due to these small numbers, there are only 2 reported verdicts for DC cerebral palsy cases and only 1 involved a birth injury:

  • Beal v. District of Columbia (1998) $24.5 million: A 16 month old female suffered oxygen deprivation resulting in respiratory failure and cardiac arrest, after she presented to the emergency room at D.C General Hospital and doctors failed to properly install a breathing tube. The temporary loss of oxygen to her brain caused the girl to suffer severe cerebral palsy. The DC jury award $24.5 million in damages for the girl's cerebral palsy.
  • Douglas v. Washington Hosp. (1996) $3.5 million: pregnant mother's pre-eclampsia went undiagnosed and untreated by the defendant clinic. Plaintiff mother developed swelling, headaches, and clear signs of pre-eclampsia and called the defendant but was not told to come in to be examined until she became severely ill. When she eventually did come in to the defendant's office her condition was severe and emergency delivery was performed at 28 weeks. The baby was diagnosed with moderate cerebral palsy. The jury in DC awarded $3.5 million.

Below are sample verdicts for cerebral palsy cases outside of DC:

  • Hamilton v. TJ Sampson Community Hosp. (Kentucky 2018) $18.2 million: baby was stuck in the birth canal for a prolonged time. Mother claimed that the nurses improperly failed to reduce her epidural drip which left her unable to push and caused the baby to get stuck resulting in loss of oxygen. The baby was diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy due to the oxygen deprivation during birth. A jury in Barren County awarded $18.2 million.
  • Dixion v. United States (Florida 2017) $33 million: Defendants were allegedly negligent in failing to perform an emergency C-section despite clear signs of fetal distress. EFM tracings were showing "category 3" warning level which usually calls for an immediate C-section but the doctor ignored the warning as a "false positive" and told the mother to keep pushing. The baby suffered a 90 min restriction of oxygen and was diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy. Plaintiff got $33 million in damages.
  • Wollcott v. Prusky (Ohio 2016) $28 million: After being normal from start of labor the EFM strips suddenly became non-reassuring but doctors disregarded the warnings and continued vaginal delivery. Baby was not breathing when born but a resuscitation team had not been arranged in advance. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy caused by prolonged oxygen deprivation. A jury in Akron awarded $28 million in damages.
Contact Miller & Zois about Cerebral Palsy Cases in DC

Our lawyers regularly handle cerebral palsy malpractice cases in Washington DC. If you have been injured, call our lawyers at 800-553-8082 or select here for a free consultation.

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