A kernicterus lawsuit can be brought if your baby suffered from kernicterus due to the negligence of a medical practitioner. Jaundice can lead to kernicterus, and while jaundice is relatively common, kernicterus is not. Today, there is no excuse for kernicterus in developed countries like the U.S. We answer the question, "What is kernicterus?" We also explain when you should file a claim, kernicterus risk factors, and how to hire the right lawyer to fight a kernicterus lawsuit.

When To File a Medical Malpractice Kernicterus Lawsuit

Many babies in the U.S. are born with a condition called jaundice. About 60% of all babies have some degree of jaundice. The condition occurs when the chemical bilirubin builds up in a baby's bloodstream. During pregnancy, the mother's liver effectively clears bilirubin from the baby's blood, but, after birth, the baby's liver may have difficulty sufficiently eliminating bilirubin on its own. 

When bilirubin builds up, common signs in a baby include a yellow tint to the skin and the whites of the baby's eyes. The yellow coloring is referred to as jaundice. If jaundice goes untreated for long enough, it can cause kernicterus. Kernicterus, although rare, is a type of brain damage and should be taken seriously.

If your baby has suffered from kernicterus due to medical malpractice, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit to recover damages associated with your losses. The best time to file a medical malpractice kernicterus lawsuit is right now. The statute of limitations varies from state to state. Your state's time limit for filing a lawsuit may be as short as one year or as long as five years. However, the average statute of limitations is around two or three years. You must speak to medical malpractice lawyer before your time runs out.

Untreated Jaundice Becomes Severe Jaundice

While jaundice is quite common among babies, it should not be left untreated. Medical practitioners recommend newborns be examined for jaundice every 12 hours while in the hospital, before discharge, and — if discharged within 72 hours of birth — within two days of discharge.

Jaundice often clears up without additional treatment. However, in some cases, infant jaundice can progress to severe jaundice. 

Signs of severe jaundice include:

  • Jaundice becomes more intense or spreads
  • Your babies skin becomes more yellow
  • Your baby seems listless, sick, or difficult to wake
  • Your baby isn't gaining weight or feeds poorly
  • Your baby develops a 100° F fever or higher

Signs of Jaundice or Elevated Bilirubin Levels Are Ignored

While it is common for jaundice to clear up on its own within one to three weeks, medical practitioners and parents should never ignore the signs. Signs of jaundice indicate that bilirubin has built up in your baby at a rate that the child’s underdeveloped liver cannot yet handle. As your baby's liver continues to develop, signs of jaundice should recede, but your doctor must carefully observe the signs. 

Breastfeeding may help the baby overcome jaundice more successfully. However, if the signs of jaundice do not diminish or become more intense, your baby should start treatment immediately.

Treatment for severe jaundice may include:

  • Fluids to manage dehydration
  • Phototherapy to make bilirubin more manageable
  • Exchange blood transfusion to quickly reduce bilirubin levels
  • Intravenous immunoglobulin to manage attacking antibodies in babies with blood type incompatibilities

If jaundice lasts longer than two weeks, you should take your baby to the doctor for additional testing, as there may be additional issues contributing to the symptoms of jaundice. 

What Are the Risk Factors of Kernicterus?

When the signs of severe jaundice are ignored or improperly monitored or treated, then a birth injury like kernicterus may develop. With kernicterus, dangerously high levels of bilirubin can damage your baby's brain or central nervous system. This can result in hearing loss, cerebral palsy, problems with vision and teeth, and intellectual disabilities.

If the baby's liver cannot metabolize sufficient bilirubin, the unprocessed bilirubin can cross the blood-brain barrier and damage the brain and spinal cord, causing neurological disabilities and disfunction. This is called bilirubin encephalopathy. Kernicterus signs are similar to severe jaundice signs, and include:

  • Your baby seems listless, sick, or difficult to wake
  • Their muscles become floppy, like a ragdoll
  • They have no startle reflex
  • They become lethargic
  • They feed poorly
  • They experience brief pauses in breathing

Kernicterus is not curable. Once the damage to the brain occurs, nothing can correct it. The damaged brain cells will not regenerate, and there is no effective treatment after kernicterus has damaged a baby's brain.

Kernicterus is entirely preventable by carefully monitoring for jaundice and being aware of the potential risks. No baby should develop brain damage from jaundice. However, when kernicterus does develop, the effects can be devastating, leading your baby to suffer from lifelong:

  • Cognitive impairments
  • Severe neurological damage
  • Cerebral palsy or other permanent brain damage

Cognitive Impairments

Kernicterus may result in cognitive impairments that become apparent as the baby continues to develop. Cognitive impairment can cause a person to have difficulty with the following:

  • Remembering
  • Learning new things
  • Concentrating
  • Making mundane decisions affecting everyday life

The intensity of your baby's cognitive impairment may range from mild to severe. 

Severe Neurological Damage

In some cases, kernicterus can result in severe neurological damage. In a 2017 case report of a newborn who succumbed after a fatal encounter with kernicterus, an autopsy revealed findings of brain tissue damage, including the presence of Alzheimer's type II indicators. 

Not all cases involving severe neurological damage are fatal. However, if your baby died from complications related to kernicterus, you should speak with an experienced birth injury lawyer.

Cerebral Palsy or Other Permanent Brain Damage

Bilirubin from kernicterus has a neurotoxic effect on the baby's brain. Neurotoxins impair the normal activity of the infant's nervous system. Too much impairment can kill neurons that process signals in the baby's brain and other areas of the central nervous system.

This can cause motor-related consequences ranging from a lack of coordination to severe movement disorders, including dyskinetic cerebral palsy. The form and severity can vary depending on several factors.

Other permanent brain damage may appear as:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Impaired hearing
  • Impaired eye movement 

If your baby has developed cerebral palsy due to a medical practitioner's negligence, a birth injury lawyer can help.

How To Hire a Kernicterus or Birth Injury Lawyer

If your baby has developed kernicterus as a result of medical malpractice, you should speak with experienced kernicterus lawyers. If your medical doctor failed to treat your baby for jaundice or did not properly monitor for changes in conditions, you may be well suited to lodge a successful kernicterus lawsuit. Ratzan Weissman & Boldt are experienced birth injury lawyers with a deep understanding of kernicterus cases. We can help you understand your rights and explain your legal options for recourse. Contact us today.