Legal advice: Can I investigate the circumstances of my son's delivery?

My son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy (‘CP’) when he was two years old. 
Legal advice: Can I investigate the circumstances of my son's delivery?

Medical negligence litigation is a complex area. Stock image. 

Q. My son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy (‘CP’) when he was two years old. He is now six years old and requires a lot of care. Recently, I saw a news report concerning parents of a boy with CP who received compensation for the mismanagement around his birth, which was said to have caused his CP. My son presents with symptoms very like this boy and seeing this news report has prompted me to investigate the circumstances around his delivery, which I have always had concerns about. 

However, I have no idea about where to begin and wonder have I left it too late.

A. Thank you for your query. I am very sorry to hear of your son’s diagnosis which no doubt must be very challenging for you, your son and your family.

For other readers who may be unaware, cerebral palsy is caused by abnormal development of the brain, or damage to the developing brain, that affects one’s ability to control his or her muscles. On my understanding, there are several possible causes of the abnormal brain development or brain damage. However, in short, CP related to abnormal development of the brain, or damage to the brain that happened before or during birth, is known as congenital CP. Some things increase the chance that a child will have congenital CP for example: low birthweight, premature birth, infections during pregnancy and complications during delivery (where for example oxygen supply to the baby is disrupted). The other type of cerebral palsy, on my understanding, is what is known as acquired CP; where the brain damage occurs more than a month or so after birth (i.e. for example due to infections, a head injury or a stroke etc.).

In circumstances, for example, where you can prove, to the required standard, that your son’s CP was caused by the negligent mismanagement of your labour/delivery by those you cared for you, a medical negligence case can be initiated. 

Complex area of law 

As medical negligence litigation is a complex area, it would be best for you to consult with a solicitor with experience in this area in the first instance, so that he/she can request and review your/ your son’s records so that an informed decision can be made as to whether the matter warrants further investigation by appropriate experts to ascertain what caused your son’s CP.

Usually medical negligence claims / claims for personal injury must be brought within two years of the injury occurring. However, the time limit for claims where children (i.e. those under the age of 18) are involved does not commence until the child reaches their 18th birthday, after which, they must initiate legal proceedings before their 20th birthday otherwise they will be precluded from bringing a case at a later stage. It is always advisable however, to investigate/ pursue a child’s claim as early as possible.

Aisling Maher is an Associate Solicitor in Cantillons Solicitors of 39 South Mall, Cork.

*This weekly column is a readers’ service and is not intended to replace professional advice. Email your queries to legalqueries@cantillons.com. 

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