Children are vulnerable and can be injured in a number of ways. Many of our clients have suffered a traumatic brain injury as a consequence of road traffic accidents, trips and slips, and other accidents. We also act for parents whose children suffer brain injury at birth or as a consequence of medical negligence.
Traumatic childhood brain injury claims
Road traffic accidents, accidents at school, at home, in public places or elsewhere make up the majority of all child brain injury claims.
It is important to appoint solicitors as soon as possible after the accident in order that both the circumstances surrounding the accident can be investigated while the facts are fresh in the mind and also as, in many cases, early rehabilitation can be put in place to help reduce the impact of the accident on the child’s development and life prospects.
Medical negligence brain injury claims
Whatever the cause of our clients’ brain injuries as children, we are able to investigate the circumstances of the injury and, where possible, obtain judgment against the defendant for the injury.
At this point in the litigation we are able to obtain substantial compensation payments to put in place immediate rehabilitation where appropriate as well as professional support to meet the needs caused by the brain injury.
Depending on the child’s age and the certainty with which our experts can assess prognosis we either proceed to an immediate full valuation of the claim for compensation or delay final determination of compensation until the child reaches an age where the experts are able to predict the future with sufficient certainty for the court to make a final award of compensation.
In many of the cases we have dealt with, the brain damage injury is categorised as cerebral palsy, and we have a great deal of experience in working with families and children to understand why this injury occurred and to pursue financial compensation to help the family to provide the care and equipment required.
However there are other causes of brain injury in babies and children. Babies may suffer brain damage due to mistakes made by medical staff during the post-delivery care. Brain damage can result from medical errors made when there is a failure to properly diagnose and/or treat jaundice, hypocarbia, hypoglycaemia, meningitis and septicaemia or hydrocephalus. We have experience acting in all of these:
- Cerebral palsy claims
Many of our clients suffer from cerebral palsy as a consequence of failings in the management of pregnancy, labour and delivery or failures in neonatal management of in the diagnosis and treatment of childhood infections. In these cases cerebral palsy is caused by a lack of oxygen perfusion to the brain.
- Hydrocephalus claims
Hydrocephalus occurs where there is a collection of excessive fluid on the brain. This fluid can cause an increase in pressure on the brain tissue which in turn can cause brain injury.
Hydrocephalus can occur because of genetic or development abnormalities or as a result of an infection (mumps/rubella) contracted by the mother during pregnancy. Hydrocephalus can also occur as a result of the complications of premature birth such as intra ventricular haemorrhage or meningitis.
The symptoms of hydrocephalus might include a large head size or a rapid increase in head circumference, downward eye gaze, vomiting, drowsiness, irritability and seizures. Older children might experience headaches followed by vomiting, nausea, swelling of the optic disc, impaired vision (crossed eyes), problems with balance and coordination, drowsiness, irritability and cognitive difficulties.
Sometimes brain injury can occur as a result of a delay in diagnosis and treatment of hydrocephalus or as a result of a failure to adequately monitor patients and act on symptoms suggestive of a build up of pressure on the brain.
Hypocarbia (sometimes called hypocapnia) is a deficiency of carbon dioxide in the blood.
A premature baby is often assisted with their breathing by a machine (ventilation), and in such circumstances, the baby’s blood gases should be closely monitored. Frequent blood gas monitoring during ventilation should take place so that adjustments can be made to the level of ventilatory support.
It has been shown that if there is a failure to adequately monitor these levels, and the pressure of carbon dioxide in the blood is allowed to remain low for an excessive period, then this may result in brain damage.
- Hypoglycaemia claims
Hypoglycaemia is an abnormally low content of glucose in the blood. In newborn babies hypoglycaemia can occur when the baby has low blood sugar (glucose) in the first few days of life.
Before birth a baby has a continuous supply of glucose via the placenta. After birth a baby will no longer have that continuous supply and will be reliant upon either breast milk or formula to top up the glucose produced by the liver.
Hypoglycaemia is most common in premature babies or babies with low birth weights. However, low body temperature and infection can also cause the condition. Babies with hypoglycaemia can show signs of poor muscle tone and tremors. They may be jittery or very sleepy and floppy. They may also make a high-pitched cry. More serious symptoms include bluish skin, breathing problems and seizures.
If there is a delay in diagnosing or treating hypoglycemia and the blood sugar levels stay low for too long then this may result in brain damage.
Jaundice is one of the most common conditions needing medical attention in newborn babies. Jaundice refers to yellow colouration of the skin and the whites of the eyes (sclerae) and is caused by a raised level of bilirubin in the circulation, a condition known as hyperbilirubinaemia.
In young babies, the discolouration of the skin may be the only symptom of jaundice. It can be seen predominantly in the face and forehead, then becoming more visible on the trunk. More intense cases of jaundice are associated with drowsiness. Approximately 60% of term and 80% of premature babies develop jaundice in the first week of life, and about 10% of breastfed babies are still jaundiced at 1 month of age.
In most cases it is harmless and sorts itself out without the need for treatment. However sometimes the jaundice doesn't improve and the bilirubin levels become high. This is when a condition called kernicterus can develop. This is when bilirubin in the blood can enter the brain. It can lead to brain damage or even death.
The National Institute of Clinical Excellence has issued guidance on this condition to assist medical practitioners in recognising and treating the condition. However if the condition is missed or the treatment is not given in a timely manner, a severe brain injury can occur.
- Meningitis and septicaemia claims
Meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning) are very serious life threatening illnesses that may cause death within a matter of hours.
Prompt diagnosis and treatment of these illnesses is essential if lives are to be saved and permanent injury such as brain damage, hearing and sight loss and epilepsy avoided. Septicaemia may also lead to loss of limbs and scarring.
There are several different types of meningitis and septicaemia. Bacterial forms are life threatening and need urgent treatment with intravenous antibiotics.
The bacteria that is responsible for meningitis spreads through the bloodstream from an initial site of infection, commonly the nose or throat, and then reaches the brain. If the body's defence system does not stop the infection at this point blood poisoning can happen. If the infection reaches the brain it causes meningitis. Once the meningitis bacteria get into the blood, a person will become extremely unwell, and can suffer symptoms such as headaches, vomiting, aching joints, fever, a stiff neck, an aversion to light and a rash.
It is sometimes difficult to recognise the symptoms of meningitis and septicaemia, particularly in babies and young children. Symptoms in young children in particular include fever, not feeding, vomiting, pale, blotchy skin and irritability. Premature babies and those who have had a difficult, prolonged labour are particularly at risk.
It is vital that doctors note the importance of the symptoms of these illnesses so that prompt treatment can be given and death or permanent injury avoided.