Kernicterus is a form of brain damage that infants can suffer that may be caused if an infant’s doctor is negligent. If your child is suffering with kernicterus, you should make arrangements to speak with a Halifax medical malpractice lawyer to discuss your concerns – and learn about your babies legal rights and options.

What exactly is kernicterus, and how does this medical condition develop in an infant? What are your rights as a parent if medical malpractice is the reason your child developed kernicterus? And what will a Nova Scotia medical malpractice lawyer do on your family’s behalf?

If you will continue reading this brief discussion of kernicterus, medical malpractice, and your family’s rights, these questions will be answered, but if kernicterus has struck your own family, you’ll need the personalized legal advice that a Halifax medical malpractice lawyer will provide.

What is Kernicterus?

Kernicterus is a serious medical condition that occurs in infants when jaundice has gone untreated for too long. The most obvious indication of jaundice is the yellow color in the skin of many newborn babies. This happens when a substance called bilirubin builds up in the child’s blood. But there are other signs and symptoms that doctors need to watch for that can signify that a child may be suffering from kernicterus. We explore these in more detail below.

In pregnancy, the mother’s liver removes a baby’s bilirubin from the blood stream. After birth, the infant’s own liver removes it. But for some newborns, the liver is not developed enough to remove bilirubin efficiently. This happens most frequently in pre-term (or premature) babies. When too much bilirubin builds up in the bloodstream, the skin and eyes begin to look yellow, and the baby has jaundice. However, this only happens in the late stages of jaundice. It is critical that doctors (and parents) be aware of the early initial symptoms of kernicterus.

Along with the yellowish color, the most common symptoms of jaundice are irritability, poor feeding, abnormal muscle tone, and abnormal suck response. Sometimes the infant will have a high pitched cry, no startle reflex and they may be lethargic. Abnormal muscle tone (floppy like a rag doll) is another obvious sign of concern. If these symptoms are ignored in a newborn baby, and the baby’s jaundice is not treated, the child will almost certainly develop kernicterus. In the later stages the baby may experience seizures and muscle spasms.

Kernicterus can cause brain damage that leads to hearing loss, vision problems, cerebral palsy, and intellectual disabilities. In rare cases, kernicterus is fatal.

However, kernicterus is easily treated and the early detection and treatment of jaundice prevents kernicterus from developing.

How is Kernicterus Detected and Treated?

More than half of all full-term newborn babies and approximately four out of five premature infants develop a medical condition called jaundice. A baby should be checked for jaundice every eight to twelve hours in the first two days after its birth.

A newborn baby should also be checked regularly between three and five days after its birth, when the bilirubin level is usually at its highest. A nurse or doctor will check a newborn baby’s bilirubin level using a light meter on the child’s head.

If the bilirubin level is high, a blood test should be conducted. In most cases, medical providers treat jaundice before kernicterus or brain damage becomes a concern.

It is important to understand that jaundice, which can lead to kernicterus, is easily treated, as long as it is diagnosed in a timely manner. If a newborn baby has a high bilirubin level, his or her milk intake level may be increased, light therapy treatment (phototherapy) may be used to break down excess bilirubin, and if necessary, a doctor may conduct a blood exchange transfusion to treat severe jaundice.

How Does Kernicterus Develop?

For many newborns, jaundice fades in one to three weeks, but doctors and parents must stay vigilant for the signs of jaundice. As a child’s liver develops, bilirubin should be removed, and jaundice usually disappears, but carefully monitoring a baby for signs of jaundice is imperative.

If severe jaundice is overlooked, inadequately monitored, or improperly treated, kernicterus may develop. If a baby’s liver can’t metabolize enough bilirubin, the unprocessed bilirubin may cross the blood-brain wall to damage a newborn baby’s brain, spinal cord, and nervous system.

As we have indicated above, jaundice, which can lead to kernicterus, is easily treated. But kernicterus, once it develops, is incurable. Once brain damage has happened, it cannot be fixed. Damaged brain cells do not regenerate, and there is no treatment after kernicterus damages a child’s brain. Kernicterus is completely preventable, but its effects are always devastating and permanent.

If Your Child Develops Kernicterus, What is Your Recourse?

No child should have to suffer brain damage because his or her jaundice went untreated. The long term costs of caring for a child who has suffered brain damage, cerebral palsy, hearing loss or intellectual disability because of untreated kernicterus can run into millions of dollars over the child’s lifetime. If your child had kernicterus because a medical provider was negligent, you can file a lawsuit to seek compensation that will cover your additional medical and care expenses and related losses and damages.

It’s not too late to seek legal advice!

In Nova Scotia, the statute of limitations – meaning the legal deadline – for filing a medical malpractice claim is usually two years from the date you become aware of the injury.

However, this deadline doesn’t apply to children! If a child has been injured due to a doctor or nurses negligence, the time limit to file a claim doesn’t start to run until the child reaches the age of majority (19 years in Nova Scotia). So the child must file their claim before their 21st birthday.

But even if your child is over age 21 it may still not be too late! In Nova Scotia, and other provinces in Atlantic Canada the time limit for filing a claim is paused if the person is under a disability as a result of the defendant’s negligence. In other words, if your child has a brain injury causing cerebral palsy from negligence that happened more than 21 years ago, they may still be able to file a claim!

If your child was diagnosed with kernicterus and has suffered an injury, you shouldn’t wait to seek legal advice. Even though the deadline to file a claim may not have run out, as time passes records may be lost or misplaced, witnesses’ memories may fade or they may retire or move away. In other words, if you have any questions at all, you should seek legal advice immediately from a Nova Scotia medical malpractice lawyer. Do it at once.

How Will a Medical Malpractice Lawyer Help Parents?

If your newborn baby’s doctor did not treat or adequately monitor your child for jaundice, and your child subsequently developed kernicterus, you may have a strong medical malpractice case, and you should consult a medical malpractice lawyer at once. The birth injury lawyers at McKiggan Hebert will review your child’s medical records and provide you with an opinion at absolutely no charge!

When birth injuries are caused by medical negligence, parents have the right to compensation for their infant’s treatment and related expenses. Your birth injury lawyer will review the details of your case to determine if your child’s injury could have been prevented, which parties are liable and whether filing a lawsuit is the best way for you to proceed.

What Does It Take to Prevail With a Malpractice Claim?

In Nova Scotia, if a child’s parents bring a medical malpractice lawsuit that is based on kernicterus, that lawsuit will prevail only if the parents and their birth injury lawyer lawyer can prove that the negligence of a medical provider (doctor and/or nurse) caused the child’s kernicterus. This is usually due to a failure to diagnose kernicterus or failure to promptly and properly treat jaundice.

If you are a parent, you must have sound, personalized legal advice as soon as you learn that your child has developed kernicterus. Your medical malpractice lawyer will examine all of your infant’s pertinent medical records and details and will speak with any potential witnesses.

Your birth injury lawyer will negotiate on your behalf for the compensation you need, but if no acceptable settlement offer is forthcoming, your lawyer will take the case to trial and ask a court to order the payment of the compensation that your family is entitled to by law.

Financial Concerns Need Not Stand in the Way of Parents Seeking Justice

You may already face mounting medical costs due to kernicterus, but financial concerns do not have to stand in the way of parents who are seeking justice for their child. The birth injury lawyers at McKiggan Hebert will not charge any legal fees or expenses unless and until you and your child are compensated.

Your lawyer’s payment is based on the amount of damages your child recovers. Simply put, if there is no recovery, there is no fee! We provide an initial case evaluation with no obligation or cost to the parents of children who suffer with kernicterus.

That first case evaluation is your opportunity to receive personalized legal advice and learn how the medical malpractice laws apply to your own case. If your child has developed kernicterus, ask a medical malpractice birth injury lawyer in Halifax for a free case evaluation. Make the call today.