cerebral palsy in babies

It is heart-breaking for new parents to find out that their child has been born with cerebral palsy. Even more tragic is discovering that medical malpractice has ruined your child’s chances of ever having a normal life.

If you may have a medical negligence claim against a hospital or other healthcare provider in South Africa, contact us at DSC Attorneys for expert legal advice and representation.

What is cerebral palsy?

Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affects motor control, including a person’s ability to control their muscles, movement and coordination. It may also impact the ability to speak.

It results from abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain.

Cerebral palsy can occur during pregnancy (prenatal), during childbirth (perinatal) or in the first months of a baby’s life (postnatal).

Risk factors for cerebral palsy in babies

Among the factors that can increase the risk of a newborn baby having or developing cerebral palsy are:

  • low birth weight (defined as less than 2.5 kilograms at birth)
  • premature birth, especially before the 32nd week of pregnancy
  • maternal infection during pregnancy
  • stroke or bleeding into the brain before birth
  • severe, untreated jaundice after birth
  • birth complications that disrupt oxygen supply to the baby.

Traumatic head injury or certain infections (like bacterial meningitis) in the first month after birth can also lead to cerebral palsy.

South Africa’s cerebral palsy statistics surpass the global average

The global average for the prevalence of cerebral palsy at birth is 2 per 1,000 births.

In South Africa, as many as 10 in 1,000 children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

This is according to a report on children with disabilities by the Uhambo Foundation, as well as a study in KwaZulu-Natal.

Multiple reports point to the lack of resources and inadequate training for nursing staff in state hospitals as significant root causes for cerebral palsy in babies.

With proper medical care, these cases could have been avoided.

40% (or more) of successful malpractice cases against the state involve cerebral palsy

A study by the Actuarial Society of South Africa found that nearly 40% of all successful medical malpractice claims against provincial health departments were for medical negligence that resulted in cerebral palsy.

In 2023, Health Minister Joe Phaahla confirmed that the majority of medical malpractice cases in Gauteng – totalling a whopping R20 billion – involve cerebral palsy.

He admitted that these matters could, “be resolved by intervention from clinical services through intensive training of the clinicians dealing with patients at the healthcare facilities.”

Examples of payouts in cerebral palsy malpractice claims

The compensation awarded for a successful medical malpractice claim will vary significantly, based on the nature of the case.

The Actuarial Society of South Africa has estimated the average payout for claims involving cerebral palsy as R5.5 million. However, payouts may be significantly higher (or lower) than this amount.

In 2021, for example, the courts awarded R10,959,546 to the mother of a child born with cerebral palsy due to malpractice. This amount included compensation determined for future medical costs, caregiving, loss of earnings and general damages.

In another case, the Supreme Court of Appeal ordered a gynaecologist and the KwaZulu-Natal hospital where he worked to pay R20 million for failing to act timeously to deliver a baby, resulting in cerebral palsy. This case took a decade to be resolved.

What it takes to make a claim of medical malpractice

Claiming and proving medical malpractice can take time. Partly, this is because causation between the cerebral palsy diagnosis and negligence must first be established.

Even matters that appear simple can take years to resolve. For more complex cases, the legal process takes even longer.

The following steps are vital for helping ensure the success of a claim.

Put in a claim as soon as possible

It’s advisable to seek legal advice and to proceed with initiating a claim as soon as possible.

A specific legal process must then be followed. A competent attorney will ensure that the right steps are taken within prescribed deadlines.

Where a claim is against a state hospital or state healthcare providers, certain special requirements apply. For details, see our article about personal injury claims against the state.

Obtain medical testimony of malpractice

The success of a medical malpractice claim depends on sufficient, clear evidence of medical malpractice.

As a starting point, this typically includes medical records; substantiated testimony from medical specialists; and, if possible, witness statements indicating medical mismanagement.

Evidence that healthcare providers acted negligently can 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.

Compensation in cases involving cerebral palsy

Establishing the appropriate financial compensation for a claim involving cerebral palsy in a baby should take into account the severity of the brain damage and the estimated costs arising from this, over the life of the child.

For example, costs arising from cerebral palsy due to medical negligence include expenses associated with:

  • required lifelong support, including internment at a care facility, nursing care, necessary adaptations to the home, needed equipment, assistive devices and so on
  • past and future medical care, including the costs of treatment and medical supplies
  • special educational needs.

These costs can easily run into millions of rand.

Successful malpractice claims involving cerebral palsy in babies can help cover these costs, improving quality of life for those affected.


Medical malpractice claims with DSC Attorneys

At DSC Attorneys, we have a medico-legal team with extensive experience in handling cerebral palsy malpractice claims.

We are well-positioned to assess your claim, prepare the necessary supporting evidence and represent you during legal proceedings, improving your chances of receiving the compensation you deserve.

Contact us for the very best legal support and representation. Note that we work on a no win, no fee basis.

See if you have a claim