Failure to recognize the signs and diagnose jaundice can cause an infant to suffer lifelong impairments. If your doctor failed to diagnose or treat jaundice and your child developed kernicterus, you may be eligible to pursue damages.
Kernicterus Lawsuits & Injury Cases
To win a kernicterus birth injury lawsuit, you will need to prove that your child suffered a preventable injury related to their high bilirubin levels. You will also need to show the doctor’s delay in diagnosing the child or a delay in treatment caused the trauma they suffered. This is the only way to hold the doctor or hospital liable for the damages your child suffered. This means you must establish they failed to uphold their standard of care.
In many cases, your child’s medical records will not tell the full story. Instead, you need an expert medical witness who can explain the acceptable standard of care, talk about your doctor’s negligence in failing to recognize and treat a condition as common as jaundice, and explain your child’s prognosis and ongoing care needs.
With a strong case, you may be able to recover a wide range of damages for your child and your family. This includes:
- Medical care costs related to the diagnostic delay
- Therapy and rehabilitation
- Ongoing and future care costs
- Out-of-pocket expenses
- Pain and suffering losses
- Mental anguish
It is important to note there are filing deadlines in this type of case, in addition to possible tolling for minors and/or a statute of repose that set an absolute deadline. However, these deadlines can vary depending on the state where the incident occurred. Your birth injury attorney can help you understand how long you have to take legal action.
Kernicterus is a type of brain damage newborns may develop as a result of having too much bilirubin in their blood. Kernicterus can cause many problems, including:
- Athetoid cerebral palsy
- Hearing loss
- Eye problems
- Dental issues
- Intellectual disabilities
Recognizing the signs of elevated bilirubin and treating jaundice quickly can prevent kernicterus and all the related complications. For this reason, a missed or delayed diagnosis in your newborn may be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Kernicterus occurs because of excess levels of bilirubin, known as hyperbilirubinemia, in the blood of a newborn. The liver forms bilirubin through the natural process of breaking down hemoglobin and excretes it in bile. Some newborns have a difficult time managing bilirubin levels without treatment.
Jaundice is the classic sign of excess bilirubin, and most newborns with jaundice receive treatment for excess bilirubin before they leave the hospital. Without treatment, kernicterus could develop. Signs include:
- Difficult to wake up
- Refusing to sleep
- Difficulty feeding
- Extremely fussy, crying inconsolably
- High pitched crying
- Back arching
- Stiff body
- Limp, ragdoll-like body
- Unusual eye movements
Kernicterus Diagnosis & Treatment
If a doctor suspects kernicterus, they may call for clinical evaluation to get a diagnosis and ensure prompt treatment. Without addressing the underlying high levels of bilirubin, complications may occur quickly.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are two ways to diagnose a problem with a baby’s bilirubin levels:
- Transcutaneous Bilirubin (TcB) levels: Medical care professionals can measure TcB using a light meter that reads the level through the skin of the baby’s head.
- Total Serum Bilirubin (TSB) levels: Medical care professionals check TSB by taking a small sample of blood from the newborn’s heel.
Phototherapy is effective in treating most cases of high bilirubin levels. In more severe cases when phototherapy is not effective, blood transfusions to exchange the bilirubin-rich blood or plasmapheresis may be necessary.
Kernicterus Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know if my baby has kernicterus?
If you see yellowing of your baby’s skin, usually beginning at the head and moving toward the toes, you should talk to a trusted doctor about your child’s condition right away. Getting same-day treatment can prevent kernicterus and other dangerous complications.
Is kernicterus fatal?
While kernicterus is generally not fatal, without treatment for the underlying issues with high bilirubin levels, it can cause brain damage and lifelong impairments.
Who is liable for kernicterus?
If the doctor who delivers your baby or those caring for the child in the hospital nursery fails to recognize jaundice and does not diagnose the child with excess levels of bilirubin, they may develop kernicterus and suffer brain damage. If this happens to your child, you may be able to hold the doctor or hospital who failed to diagnose the baby liable.
What level of bilirubin causes kernicterus?
A study published in American Family Physician suggests therapy for excess bilirubin when total serum bilirubin levels reach:
- 15 mg per dL in infants 25 to 48 hours old
- 18 mg per dL in infants 49 to 72 hours old
- 20 mg per dL in infants older than 72 hours
Kernicterus Glossary Terms
- What is Jaundice? Jaundice is a yellow discoloration of the skin, whites of the eyes, mucous membranes, and other areas caused by too much of the yellow-orange colored bilirubin in the bloodstream.
- What is Bilirubin? Bilirubin is an orange-yellow pigmented waste product made as a by-product of the liver breaking down hemoglobin. Bilirubin is normally excreted in bile.
- What is Gilbert’s Syndrome? Gilbert’s Syndrome is a genetic condition that is caused by an issue processing bilirubin in the liver.
Talk to a Kernicterus Birth Injury Attorney About Your Child’s Case
If a doctor failed to diagnose and treat your newborn’s jaundice, and they developed kernicterus because of high bilirubin levels, your family may be able to take legal action against them.
Call the Birth Injury Lawyers Group today at 1-800-222-9529 to connect with a local birth injury attorney. Your attorney can discuss your options for pursuing medical malpractice damages in your state at no out-of-pocket cost to you.