The U.S. CDC and the medical community makes it clear that jaundice is treatable and kernicterus is preventable. In fact, the CDC plainly states:
“No baby should develop brain damage from untreated jaundice.”
Because the condition is preventable with appropriate medical care, families with a jaundiced child who developed kernicterus and / or other neurological damage may have potential birth injury lawsuits. As complex medical malpractice claims, these cases require extensive insight, collaboration with medical experts, and the ability to illustrate how medical negligence played a role.
Although every case is unique, examples of medical negligence which can lead to Kernicterus include:
Testing / Diagnosing Negligence
- Failing to test bilirubin levels or perform blood /liver enzyme tests when a newborn has jaundice, and failures to continue testing and monitoring after discharge.
- Improperly testing bilirubin levels (i.e. failing to test for specific chemical forms of bilirubin, including direct / conjugated and indirect / un-conjugated bilirubin).
- Failing to identify risk factors and other complications.
- Failing to diagnose acute or severe jaundice / delays in diagnosis.
- Failing to distinguish between conjugated hyperbilirubinemia and physiologic jaundice, which require different treatment.
- Failing to appropriately treat jaundice / delays in treating excessive bilirubin levels.
- Improperly performing phototherapy (“light therapy”) to decrease bilirubin levels with ultraviolet light in early stages.
- Failing to perform or improperly performing blood exchange transfusions when high levels of bilirubin have been present for some time.
- Postponing treatment for reasons which deviate from accepted standards.
- Not performing any treatment at all.
Other Forms of Negligence
- Failing to treat risk factors, including hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy.
- Causing birth trauma during delivery using excessive force.
- Improperly using labor-inducing drugs such as Pitocin
- Negligent use of forceps and vacuum extractors.
- Hospital failures, including failures to have jaundice-specific policies.
Accurately detecting and monitoring jaundice, performing necessary tests, and appropriately treating the condition is absolutely critical to preventing Kernicterus. Proper and timely medical care are also essential to avoiding many related neurological disabilities – from minor learning disabilities to conditions as severe as athetoid cerebral palsy.