The neurological condition called cerebral palsy is also known as static encephalopathy or Littles disease after the Doctor William Little who first described it in medical literature. The condition is characterized by involuntary and uncontrollable movements due to stiffness of the muscles.

The condition is caused by damage to the brain which disrupts the ability to control movement and posture and may cause seizures or mental impairment. It may be naturally occurring or may be as a result of medical negligence. Affected children are frequently slow to reach developmental milestones and may show typical symptoms.

Cerebral palsy often ensures that the victims and their families suffer from emotional, physical and financial strain. To make matters worse for some sufferers in a small percentage of cases it is caused by medical negligence occurring during before, during or immediately after childbirth. In this case a cerebral palsy solicitors claim for compensation can be made against a doctor, healthcare provider or Hospital Trust if medical negligence is proven by a solicitor.

A definition of cerebral palsy is not straight forward as the condition pertains to a group of neurological disorders often with varying levels of severity with no two victims having identical presentation. Individuals with cerebral palsy can have the same general diagnosis and to categorise the condition doctors usually consider which part of the brain is damaged. Depending on the movement disorder that is exhibited the victim may be suffering from one or more of several types known spastic, ataxic or athetoid (dyskinetic). The classification can be further refined by reference to the effects on the body which are known as hemiplegia, monoplegia, diplegia, triplegia or quadriplegia.

There are several generally accepted versions of the definition of cerebral palsy based on the above classifications and the facts that it is known to be caused during pregnancy, at birth or shortly after birth with about 80% of all cerebral palsy having no known cause :-

    Cerebral Palsy is an umbrella term used to describe a group of chronic disorders impairing control of movement that appear in the first few years of life and generally do not worsen over time. The term cerebral refers to the brain's two halves, or hemispheres, and palsy describes any disorder that impairs control of body movement. Faulty development or damage to motor areas in the brain disrupts the brain's ability to adequately control movement and posture.

Congenital Malformation

It should be made clear from the outset that most cases of cerebral palsy have nothing whatsoever to do with medical negligence and are a naturally occurring birth defect the reason for the occurrence of which is, in most cases completely unknown. There are however a significant number of incidences of this condition that arise as a direct result of medical negligence and subsequently result in a successful legal action for compensation by a cerebral palsy solicitor.

In most cases no one knows exactly what causes cerebral palsy, regardless of its form. There are a number of recognised congenital risk factors including :-

  • Drugs, alcohol or cigarettes used by the mother during pregnancy.
  • Exposure of the mother during pregnancy to infectious diseases including rubella, cytomegalovirus and toxoplasmosis.
  • Physical trauma to the mother.
  • Premature birth with a low birth weight.

Whilst many cases of cerebral palsy can be identified with congenital factors, there is no doubt that there is a body of cases wherein the disorder is the result of medical negligence and failure to handle the afflicted infant properly before, during or immediately after birth. The causes of cerebral palsy due to medical negligence include :-

  • Oxygen deprivation if the baby is left in the birth canal.
  • Injuries resulting from a prolapsed umbilical cord.
  • Failure to detect and prevent seizures.
  • Failure to prepare for and carry out an emergency caesarean section.
  • Improper use of forceps or excessive vacuum extraction during delivery.

Irreversible Brain Damage

Cerebral palsy is caused by a permanent and irreversible injury to the brain occurring before, during or shortly after birth with the majority of cases where medical negligence is involved being due to oxygen starvation during the time that the infant is in the birth canal. The damage done to the brain cannot be reversed and subsequent treatment consists of attempting to alleviate the symptoms to improve quality of life. A cerebral palsy compensation claim cannot reverse the physical damage done however it can provide the finances necessary to improve quality of life for both the sufferer and their carer.

Anyone who has a child, a sibling or a loved one who is afflicted with cerebral palsy will know how painful it is to watch him or her attempt to cope with the disability in order to have as near normal life as possible. The damage to the brain wrought by cerebral palsy is often so severe as to hinder the physical and mental development of its victim. Whilst some sufferers of cerebral palsy do manage to achieve a semblance of normal life, with the aid of medications and physical therapy and other means of treating the physical problems brought about by the disorder, some victims are not as fortunate. The condition in some victims is so severe and characterised by learning disabilities and mental retardation that it is simply impossible for them to live without a dedicated carer.


Cerebral palsy is not usually diagnosed quickly as it takes time for doctors to establish the cause of a childs ill health or lack of development which can often be attributed to other conditions that mimic the effects of cerebral palsy. Diagnosis takes place after detailed consideration and testing of motor skills and intellectual abilities and may not be confirmed until the child is aged eighteen months or in some cases even later.

Diagnosis of cerebral palsy which closely resembles other movement disorders can be challenging. There are some indicators that could help you determine whether or not you should seek professional advice. Children below the age of 6 months may exhibit some of the following symptoms :-

  • child more tired than might be expected and can become irritable
  • difficulties while feeding
  • abnormal posture and/or may cry continuously
  • uncontrolled shaking of the infants limbs
  • unpredictable change in muscle tone or very poor muscle tone in general
  • seizures may occur without warning
  • staring for extended periods or have fluttering and twitching eyes
  • the child often clenches a fist and exhibits abnormal reflex activity

Cerebral Palsy Categories

There are four main categories of cerebral palsy:

    Spastic Cerebral Palsy

    Spastic cerebral palsy is the most common form, affecting 70-80% of patients and the muscles remain in a constant state of increased involuntary reflex characterized by difficulty of movement. In some instances this condition can be controlled to some degree by drugs, mechanical equipment and physical therapy.

    Athetoid Cerebral Palsy

    Athetoid cerebral palsy affects 10-20% of patients and causes involuntary, purposeless movements, especially in the face, arms, and trunk. Individuals afflicted with athetoid cerebral palsy have difficulty controlling movement due to mixed muscle tone which causes coordination difficulties. This particular condition is often associated with other forms of CP and is usually characterised by spastic movements. Victims usually exhibit the major symptoms when they are conscious or wide awake with substantially diminished symptoms when they sleep which indicates that emotional stress plays a large part in the condition.

    Athetoid cerebral palsy is believed to be caused by damage to the basal ganglia which is the part of the brain responsible for transmitting signals to the muscles. The basal ganglia is responsible for facilitating controlled movement and coordination and for allowing the maintenance of body posture. A child suffering from basal ganglia damage usually exhibits purposeless and involuntary movements. These uncoordinated movements often affect the childs face, trunk and arms thereby causing difficulties with speaking, feeding, grasping and other simple movements. Some children with this condition also suffer from Dysarthia which is characterised by difficulties in swallowing, drooling and inaudible speech.

    Severe athetoid cerebral palsy can cause immense suffering and whilst most cases are the result of inexplicable naturally occurring phenomena there are a small number of victims whose condition has been caused by medical negligence thereby entitling them to claim compensation and whilst there is not enough money in the world to compensate for this injury it may make life a little easier for the victim.

    Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

    Ataxic cerebral palsy is characterized by lack of co-ordination and low muscle tone and the major cumulative effect is to make movement and posture difficult. This condition affects less than 10% of children diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Ataxic cerebral palsy sufferers have difficulty with depth perception, sense of balance, walking, holding small objects and with simple tasks such as drawing or writing primarily due to their unsteady movements, lack of co-ordination and poor muscle control. Affected children also usually have difficulties in maintaining their posture and often require help sitting up. In addition some children encounter speech difficulties.

    Mixed Cerebral Palsy

    Mixed cerebral palsy is usually a combination of spasticity and athetoid although any combination can occur.

    Only a small proportion of patients suffer from this relatively rare type of mixed CP. They usually exhibit the stiff muscle characteristic of spastic CP and the involuntary movements of athetoid CP with rare involvement of ataxic CP symptoms.

    Initially a child with mixed cerebral palsy will at first exhibit signs of spasticity and involuntary movement will thereafter follow when the child is between nine months and three years old and at this stage an accurate diagnosis may be made. In a few cases there is a combination of athetoid and ataxic but more often it is found to be a combination of spastic and athetoid.

    Mixed cerebral palsy can range from mild to severe however it will almost always have a serious effect on a patient's everyday life. Among the many problems experienced is dysfunctional movement, inadequate ability to balance and reduced motor function. Many patients have difficulty standing up and sitting down. More serious cases involve mental retardation, incontinence, poor hearing and eyesight, impaired pain perception, growth difficulties and episodes of seizures.

Further Classification

Spastic cerebral palsy is further classified based on the number of limbs affected by the disorder :-


    Quadriplegia is a classification of severe cerebral palsy where the disability affects all four limbs and is sometimes referred to as double hemiplegia. It is not uncommon for there to be serious and extensive disability also involving the trunk and neck muscles often with a minimum requirement for a motorised wheelchair to facilitate any independent movement. Many children with this disability cannot function normally in almost any respect and require constant care and attention.

    Most victims suffer from spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy which is characterised by uncontrolled movement and poor muscle tone caused as a result of injury to the part of the brain responsible for movement control and coordination. As a result, the child often exhibits symptoms that include jerky movements, twitching and difficulties in walking, sitting and speaking.

    This condition is categorised into spastic, ataxic, athetoid and mixed cerebral palsy with further classified into monoplegia, diplegia, triplegia, hemiplegia and quadriplegia which is based on the number of affected limbs.


    Triplegia is a classification of cerebral palsy where the disability affects three limbs. Some medical experts consider the condition as a combination of diplegia and hemiplegia or quadriplegia, with a single limb less affected. In most cases it involves both the child's legs and one arm.

    Most victims suffer from spastic triplegia cerebral palsy which is characterized by stiff jerky movements and a general lack of co-ordination together with involuntary movements and poor muscle tone.


    Diplegia is a classification of cerebral palsy where both legs are primarily affected and there may to a lesser extent be involvement of the arms. The condition can be further classified into mild, severe or moderate and usually involves spasticity which causes difficulty with balance, movement and co-ordination. This condition can worsen with age due to disparate growth between muscles and bones which results in stiffness thereby worsening any spasticity.

    Spastic diplegia cerebral palsy is believed to be caused by a serious injury to the motor cortex region of the brain usually as a result of premature birth. Whilst most children afflicted with this condition have difficulty with movement there are often no intellectual difficulties.


    When an infant is diagnosed with monoplegia cerebral palsy, it means that the condition seriously affects just one limb. It could be a serious disability of either an arm or a leg however where other limbs are involved to a much lesser extent it may still be referred to using the same term.

    Infant monoplegia cerebral palsy is usually caused by a lesion in the motor cortex of the brain that is complete or partial resulting to irreparable brain damage. Therapy is commonly recommended to stimulate movement but the chance of fully recovering from the injury is non-existent. Diagnosing this condition requires professional skill to rule out other illnesses including metabolic disorders, brain tumors and hereditary diseases. The condition can mimic the effects of Erbs palsy or brachial plexus palsy which are also birth injuries resulting from damage to nerves located in the neck and shoulder with which it can be confused and initially mis-diagnosed.


    Hemiplegia is a classification of cerebral palsy where the child suffers from disability that affects both an arm and a leg located at the same side of the body. Fortunately, most children affected by this condition do not appear to be mentally impaired and can function relatively normally as adults despite their physical disabilities. In some cases "double hemiplegia" is diagnosed which affects all four limbs but generally affects the left and right sides differently.

Legal Aid

If you believe or suspect that your child's injury is as a result of negligent medical treatment, you should seek qualified legal advice from a medical negligence solicitor with a view to starting a claim for compensation. Legal aid is available to investigate and pursue a claim for medical negligence. Legal Aid is always granted with a nil contribution from the parents as it is the child's income and assets that are considered by the Legal Services Commission when assessing eligibility for public funding of a legal claim. In the event that the claim is lost there is no possibility of a cerebral palsy solicitors costs award against a legally aided child as this would be unlawful under the current regulations. A legally aided claim on behalf of a child is therefore totally risk free. Similar considerations apply to older mentally disabled victims.

Time Limits

The time limit posed by law for issuing such a claim for compensation in a court of law is three years after diagnosis of the condition however in the case of a minor the three year countdown only starts when the victim reaches 18 years of age, expiring on the eve of the 21st birthday and for victims who are mentally incapacitated by the condition there is usually no limit on the date that proceedings can be commenced.

Adults with CP

Whilst most cerebral palsy cases issued in a court of law involve infant victims, it is very much possible for older mentally disabled sufferers to take legal action for compensation. It is not unusual for claims to be settled for those aged 30 and over, the only limiting factor being the availability of full medical records.

Compensation Awards

The payment of damages in a personal injury claim is intended to put the recipient or claimant back into the position that they would have been in had the negligent act which caused the injury not occurred. Sadly this is simply not possible in the case of this particular injury as nothing can put right or adequately compensate for the irreversible damage that has been caused to the brain however what it can do is to ease the burden of the problems that have resulted to the victim. Cerebral palsy compensation can range from a relatively modest sum for those with a minor physical disability to several millions of pounds for those suffering from serious physical or mental disability. The amount of cerebral palsy compensation awarded depends not only on the pain and suffering experienced by the victim but is also intended to cover the ongoing cost of expenses and care, where appropriate, incurred in the past as well as for the future.

For the sake of expedience any damages that are payable are divided into two categories by lawyers that are known as general damages and special damages however for the victims and their families it does not really matter much what they are called or how they are categorised. Included in the cerebral palsy compensation award are payments for pain and suffering including emotional injury, financial losses from the past, present and future as well as expenses incurred for treatment and care. In general, all losses considered to be predictable and foreseeable can be included. Aside from these, any care provided free by the parent or other family member can be compensated based on an hourly rate basis.

    General damages refers to losses that are not easily quantifiable and require full or partial assessment which includes :-

    • pain and suffering resulting from the injury
    • loss of ability to be physically normal and functional
    • continuing discomfort and pain
    • financial losses resulting from the inability to be gainfully employed
    • losses from the change in lifestyle due to the limitations set by the injury

    Special damages are defined as losses that can be quantified and accurately calculated and may include :-

    • income loss
    • cost of care
    • payment for free help usually provided by family members or friends
    • medical expenses, which include prescription drugs
    • financial losses from limited employment opportunities
    • other expenses incurred due to the management of the injury

Depending on the decision of the court, payment of an award of compensation may be either in the form of an immediate lump sum or as a staggered periodical payment usually on a monthly basis or as a combination of the two methods. The reasoning behind staggered payments relates to the impossibility of accurately establishing the victims life expectancy thereby making a lump sum payment unfair on one or other of those involved.

Medical Negligence

Cerebral palsy is caused by irreversible damage to the brain that may affect movement and mental capacity. It may be caused as a result of Medical Negligence occurring during or shortly after delivery. However, cerebral palsy is usually a natural phenomena and it is now thought that less than 10 per cent of all cerebral palsy cases are linked to birth.

Cerebral palsy is a condition caused by brain damage usually occurring during or after birth as opposed to muscular or nerve abnormalities. There are three main categories : spastic, athetoid and ataxic cerebral palsy together with a fourth category which is a mixture of some or all of the other three main categories.

The following are some of the possible causes of cerebral palsy by medical negligence of healthcare providers: failure to perform certain tests or the misinterpretation of test results; delays in a caesarean section when the baby is obviously in distress; non-delivery of the baby more than 24 hours after the membranes have been breached; over-use of vacuum extraction equipment or forceps and no paediatrician present when problems could have been evaluated.

Medical practitioners often refuse to make an early diagnosis as there are other conditions that can mimic cerebral palsy. The diagnosis will not be clear until the child is old enough to have specific muscular control sufficient to display the traits of cerebral palsy and you may have to wait until your baby is 18 months or more before cerebral palsy can be properly diagnosed. If you suspect your child has cerebral palsy as a result of medical negligence you will need to discuss with a solicitor the possibility of making a claim against the healthcare provider.

Cerebral Palsy Solicitors

Proving a compensation claim in this area requires the skills of a specialist cerebral palsy solicitor. Legal aid is available to pursue these claims with a nil contribution from the parents no matter the level of their salary, income or assets. Legal aid is only granted to children who are represented by lawyers who are members of the Solicitors Regulation Authority panel of clinical negligence experts. For free advice without further obligation from a cerebral palsy solicitor just call the helpline or use the contact form or email our solicitors offices. We will speak to you in plain English with no legal jargon.

Cerebral Palsy Information

Cerebral palsy is a condition, usually beginning in infancy or toddlerhood, which involves abnormalities of the brain as well as the ability to learn, hear, see, move and think. Movement difficulties are a big problem with cerebral palsy. There are different types of cerebral palsy which include spastic cerebral palsy, ataxic cerebral palsy, dyskinetic cerebral palsy, mixed cerebral palsy and hypotonic cerebral palsy.

The symptoms of cerebral palsy can be serious or very mild. It can involve only one part of the body or both sides of the body. It is usually seen in just the legs or just the arms but can be in both the arms and the legs.

Symptoms can be seen as early as three months of age but can occur as old as two years of age. It can express itself as a delay in motor function and in other developmental stages. Some symptoms of spastic cerebral palsy, the most common type, include the following:

  • Tight muscles that move very little.
  • Abnormal gait with the arms tucked in toward the sides and knees crossed or touching, making them have a scissors gait.
  • They walk on their toes.
  • Tight joints that are contracted and don't straighten out
  • Weakness of the muscles or paralysis of the muscles
  • The symptoms can affect one side of the body or just the leg or just the arms

Other symptoms are seen in the different types of cerebral palsy. These include abnormal movements that worsen during stress, tremors, loss of coordination, unsteady gain and loose, floppy muscles. Non-movement symptoms include learning disabilities or decreased intelligence, speech difficulties, hearing or vision difficulties, seizures and joint or muscle pain, particularly in adults.

There can be digestive problems as well, including difficulty sucking or feeding in babies, problems swallowing foods and liquids, and vomiting and constipation. Increases in drooling, delayed growth, incontinence and irregular breathing are all features of cerebral palsy in infants and young people with the disease.

Cerebral palsy is caused by injury to the brain, in particular, a low level of oxygen in the brain. No one knows exactly why this occurs but it has a slightly higher incidence in preemies. You can get cerebral palsy from bleeding into the brain, head injury, infections in the mother during pregnancy, brain infections such as meningitis and encephalitis or in severe jaundice in infancy. Damage to the brain up to the age of two can also cause the development of cerebral palsy.

The treatment of cerebral palsy varies according to the type of symptoms the person has. Treatment almost always involves a multidisciplinary team including a primary care doctor, a social worker, a dentist, a physical therapist, speech therapists, occupational therapists, caregivers and other specialists, such as a neurologist or physiatrist.

The treatment attempts to make sure the person has the best symptom complex and there is prevention of complications such as nutritional deficits, danger in the home, exercise intolerance, bowel problems and joint injury. Children receive an intensive educational plan and are introduced to regular school as much as possible. The physical therapist and other professionals can make sure they have hearing aids, eye glasses, muscle or bone braces, wheelchairs and walking aids.

Some treatments include the use of anticonvulsants to reduce the incidence of seizures, using Botulinum toxin to release muscles from spasticity and to control drooling and muscle relaxants to ease spasticity and tremors. In some cases, surgery is necessary to control GE reflux disease, to put in feeding tubes, to release contractures of the joints and cut nerves in the spinal cord to ease pain and spasticity.



*Legal Information

The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here