Supreme Court rules against doctor in cerebral palsy negligence case
On April 4, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada reversed a decision made by the British Columbia Court of Appeal, levying $3.2 million in damages against a Chilliwack doctor for carelessness that led to a woman’s baby sustaining serious brain damage. The brain damage manifested as cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia.
Babies are very fragile, and birth injuries can have lasting impacts. Cerebral palsy is one of the most common brain injuries resulting from improperly administered birthing procedures. It is a lifelong condition, meaning that it can lead to significant damages if charges are filed. About 2.68 births in 1,000 in British Columbia led to cerebral palsy, according to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Neurological Science in 2008.
Details about the case
Details are the most important part of any birth injury or negligence case as a direct line of causality must be connected from the doctor’s actions to the child’s injury with as little room for ambiguity as possible. In this case, the initial court decision against the doctor found that because he didn’t have surgical backup on hand to manage the complications that arose during the birthing process, he “breached the standard of care,” according to court documents.
Complications arose during a standard forceps removal procedure in which the baby suffered from lowered heart rate, or bradycardia, due to a blocked umbilical cord. She was in this sensitive condition while the doctor spent more than 10 minutes arranging an emergency caesarean section. This was all it took, the court ruled, for the baby’s brain to be permanently damaged.
The Supreme Court additionally ruled that the doctor was negligent due to his failure to inform the baby’s mother about the risks of a non-caesarean birth procedure. Had he told her that vaginal birthing could lead to the complications that occurred, the court speculated, she may have immediately chosen to have a caesarean section.
While associated with a slightly increased potential for adverse events in healthy infants compared to vaginal birthing, caesarians are on the rise in Canada. According to the Canadian Institute of Health, the national C-section rate in 2006 was 26 percent, a nearly 50 percent rise since 1998.
Rachel Giese wrote in Walrus magazine in April 2012 that the death toll in Canada due to medical error is estimated to be as high as 24,000 annually. This compares poorly with the United States. Although the U.S. has approximately 10 times Canada’s population, it was estimated to have between 44,000 to 98,000 preventable deaths due to error each year.
Types of doctor negligence
The back-and-forth involved in this case emphasizes several different types of medical negligence that could lead to permanent injury. Doctors may be guilty of negligence by failing to take adequate precautions, failing to perform a procedure correctly or by failing to inform patients about all the risks involved in even common procedures like vaginal birthing.
If your child suffered cerebral palsy as a result of complications during the birth process, you may be entitled to financial compensation. A skilled lawyer experienced with birth trauma and cerebral palsy cases will help you understand your options.