October 1989

Perinatal Asphyxia and Cerebral PalsyFact, Fiction, or Legal Prediction?

Author Affiliations

Section of Neonatology and Nutritional Sciences Department of Pediatrics University of Arizona College of Medicine Tucson, AZ 85724

Am J Dis Child. 1989;143(10):1139-1140. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1989.02150220027014

The scenario is familiar to all of us. A medical malpractice lawsuit has been filed on behalf of a child with cerebral palsy. An obstetrician and often the pediatrician who cared for the child at birth and many years thereafter receive court documents naming them as defendants in the suit.

The child may be several years old now and suffers from a visible and distressing physical condition. The plaintiff's attorney sorts through medical records with a fine-tooth comb looking for any potential impropriety, searching for fault in the mother's or child's medical treatment. The job of the plaintiff's attorney is to show that medical care rendered to the mother and/or infant fell "below accepted standards of care" and "to a medical probability" contributed to the child's current medical condition.

The logic of this legal case often rests on the association of perinatal events to long-term neurologic sequelae such as cerebral

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