Brain Injury & Medical Negligence

Not all brain injuries are as a result of blunt force trauma, such as a fall or a car accident. Brain injuries can also occur due to medical negligence.

Broadly speaking there are two classes of such types of brain injury:

  • Congenital brain injury - which was caused at or has been present since birth; and
  • Acquired brain injury - which has been caused at any point after birth.

Brain Injuries In Babies Through Mismanagement Of Births

There are occasions where a baby becomes distressed during the delivery process. This is usually identified by the medical staff using monitoring methods, such as a CTG trace. When a baby is deemed to be struggling, it is sometimes necessary to deliver the baby as soon as possible. This may be through an instrument assisted natural delivery or by way of an emergency caesarean section. The window of time to make this decision is limited, because the longer the baby remains in distress the greater the risk of the baby suffering oxygen starvation leading in some cases to irreversible brain damage (hypoxia). This injury will typically result in a diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy.

Another injury that may occur to a baby during a poorly managed birth, is a fractured skull resulting in intra-cranial bleeding and/or damage to the brain. This can occur when a baby's head is heavily impacted (stuck) in the birth canal and needs disengaging by an obstetric surgeon. This requires very particular skills and expertise, and if done incorrectly can cause life changing brain injuries to the baby.

Brain Injuries As A Result Of Failure To Correctly Treat/Diagnose Stroke

There are two types of stroke:

  • Ischaemic stroke: This is where a blood clot, formed somewhere in the bloodstream, travels to the brain and blocks a blood vessel, preventing oxygenated blood from getting to that part of the brain.
  • Haemorrhagic stroke: This is where a blood vessel in the brain is ruptured resulting in the affected part of the brain being starved of oxygen and being further damaged by the blood pooling around the brain.

It is widely known that stroke victims can suffer life changing symptoms as a result of their stroke including one-sided weakness or numbness, an inability to move some or all limbs, to speak/form sentences, to swallow properly or to smell or taste. Neurologically, stroke victims may also suffer with personality disorders, loss of memory, emotional imbalance and inability to apply reasoning and logic.

If a person is suspected of suffering stroke symptoms, it is crucial to administer treatment as soon as possible. The majority of stroke cases in hospital are ischaemic and often, if clot-busting medical treatment takes place early enough, the patient has a good chance of recovery. However, delays in diagnosing and/or treating a patient suspected of suffering a stroke will almost certainly result in some level of brain injury and possibly in death.

The risk of stroke is also increased after surgery due to the potential for blood clots forming and entering the blood stream. Surgical patients should be managed accordingly to reduce the risk of a stroke, such as providing surgical stockings and blood thinning medication. Where such measures are not followed, there is an unacceptably high risk of stroke.

Aside from the above examples, there are numerous other scenarios where failure in medical treatment can result in a brain injury, such as:

  • Failure to correctly diagnose and manage sepsis
  • Negligent brain surgery, e.g. tumour excision
  • Errors with medication

The consequences of suffering a brain injury, negligent or otherwise, can be utterly devastating for the person concerned and their family. It is crucially important that those affected by brain injury have access to the support and guidance of groups such as Headway and where appropriate seek legal advice from an experienced solicitor. Fosters are delighted to support Headway during Brain Injury Week and are fully involved with Hats for Headway.