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Cerebral Palsy Malpractice Claims in South Africa

Cerebral Palsy Malpractice Claims in South Africa
Nov 17, 2023 gnuworld

Cases of cerebral palsy are shockingly high in South Africa. Medical malpractice is a common cause of birth or pregnancy complications that lead to cerebral palsy.

An estimated 50% of medical negligence claims against the government are cerebral palsy malpractice claims in South Africa.

In this article, we discuss:

Statistics: preventable cerebral palsy in South Africa

According to Dr Thembi Katangwe, a paediatric neurologist and PhD candidate at Stellenbosch University’s Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, 10 out of every 1,000 babies born in South Africa have cerebral palsy.

This is significantly higher than the global average of one to four babies per 1,000. The figure in South Africa might be even higher. New research is needed to confirm the latest figures.

The exceptionally high number of medical negligence claims against the government for preventable cerebral palsy cases suggests the high rate has not changed in recent years.

Medically, cerebral palsy can have several causes. It is only cases caused by oxygen shortages during the delivery process (called intrapartum hypoxia) that are typically considered preventable.

According to a 2021 academic paper, only 10 to 14% of cerebral palsy cases in developed countries involve intrapartum hypoxia.

By comparison, a 2022 paper published in The South African Medical Journal stated that “…in the CP [cerebral palsy] population undergoing investigation for litigation in SA, 71% of cases were due to hypoxic ischaemic injury”. This suggests they could have been prevented by competent medical care.

A 2020 review of 144 cases of cerebral palsy at SA’s Chris Baragwanath Hospital found that 42% showed evidence of hypoxic-ischaemic injury.

What causes cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy can be caused by several factors, including physical injuries, lack of sufficient oxygen, infections, pre-term delivery, developmental issues or even genetics.

It can occur during pregnancy, during birth and even after birth.

Lifelong effects of cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy causes brain damage or abnormal development in the parts of the brain that affect movement. It can affect a child’s ability to control his or her muscles, can impact motor skills and the ability to speak.

Children with cerebral palsy commonly need lifelong medical care, attend special schools and may live in care facilities.

Cerebral palsy malpractice claims

Data from provincial departments of health up to the 2018/2019 financial year examined by The Clinton Health Access Initiative Health suggest that 50% of all medical malpractice claims against the government are cerebral palsy-type claims.

When malpractice is indicated

Cerebral palsy isn’t only caused by medical negligence. For a successful cerebral palsy malpractice claim, there has to be evidence that healthcare providers were negligent and that their actions caused or contributed to the cerebral palsy.

Examples of healthcare providers acting negligently and potentially causing or contributing to a case of cerebral palsy during pregnancy or childbirth include:

  • failure to detect infection or abnormalities prior to birth
  • failure to act appropriately when the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck
  • failure to deliver by Caesarean section when required
  • failure to detect signs of foetal distress
  • delays in inducing labour where necessary
  • failure to manage a breech birth
  • use of excessive force when delivering a baby with forceps.

Also noted in this 2021 paper, medico-legal cases involving cerebral palsy in SA courts are mainly judged on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) findings and cardiotocography (CTG) to assess causation and liability.

Who can be sued in cerebral palsy cases?

If you can prove substandard care led to your child’s cerebral palsy, it’s possible to sue the doctors, nurses, hospital staff, the hospital itself or the Department of Health (in claims against the government), depending on who was responsible.

Types of compensation that may be awarded

Compensation for a successful cerebral palsy malpractice claim in South Africa usually covers one or more of the following:

  • past and future medical costs
  • cost of on-going care (professional or by a family member)
  • loss of past and future earnings due to time off work
  • general damages for pain and suffering.

Average compensation awarded in cerebral palsy cases

Compensation will vary depending on the severity of the cerebral palsy and the level of care needed. Past claims have been as high as .

According to a 2021 report by the Actuarial Society of South Africa, the average compensation awarded is R5.5 million per case.

Why pay-outs for cerebral palsy claims are so high

Pay-outs for cerebral palsy cases tend to be very high because children with cerebral palsy need specialised, lifelong care that is very costly.

This can include special educational services, medical care and full-time carers, or live-in care facilities. Many children will also need specialised wheelchairs and mobility aids.

What to do if you may have a cerebral palsy malpractice claim

If you think you might have a cerebral palsy malpractice claim, it’s important to contact an attorney as soon as possible.

Attorneys who have experience dealing with medical malpractice claims related to cerebral palsy will determine if your claim is valid and likely to succeed.

At DSC Attorneys, our medico-legal team has this experience. We work on a no-win, no-fee basis, so you can get the compensation you’re entitled to without worrying about the cost of a court case.

Contact us to see if you have a claim or call us on 0861 465 879 for more information on cerebral palsy malpractice claims in South Africa.

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