Kernicterus Compensation Claims

Kernicterus is a serious condition that affects newborn babies who experience severe jaundice when not treated properly or quickly enough by doctors, midwives or nurses. Families affected by kernicterus can make a claim to help them better understand what has happened and why, and to win the compensation essential for helping them deal with such devastating circumstances. JMW has developed a fantastic reputation for birth injury claims and we have successfully won several multi-million-pound kernicterus claims. 

If you would like to speak to an experienced lawyer regarding a potential kernicterus compensation claim, or would like some clear, easy-to-understand advice from our team, call 0800 054 6512 or contact us using our online enquiry form.

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Kernicterus Explained

Kernicterus is a potentially fatal form of brain damage that can also lead to various other complications, including:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Deafness
  • Blindness
  • Dental problems
  • Speech and language issues
  • Learning difficulties

The meaning of kernicterus is 'yellow kern' and though this translation may make it sound harmless and quaint, the reality of kernicterus is far more sinister. Kernicterus occurs when jaundice in a newborn baby becomes so severe that bilirubin crosses the membrane of the brain, causing permanent damage. Bilirubin is the substance responsible for the yellow appearance of skin and eyeballs associated with jaundice.

Jaundice in newborn babies is very common and in most cases harmless. However, in rare cases, it can spiral out of control and become a significant risk to the child's health, so it must be monitored and treated.

Medical professionals can check bilirubin levels with a simple heel prick blood test. Babies should have their levels checked at regular intervals thereafter in order to begin treatment as quickly as possible should bilirubin levels begin to increase or become dangerously high. Treatments include phototherapy or a blood transfusion.

With adequate treatment, bilirubin can be brought under control, however regular monitoring is key. Generally speaking, JMW has found that the failures in kernicterus cases primarily stem from a lack of awareness of the risks of newborn jaundice and the need for prompt and regular checks and treatment.

Kernicterus Development and Prevention

Kernicterus develops in newborn babies with high levels of bilirubin in their blood that goes untreated. Bilirubin is the yellow substance that causes the characteristic yellowing of the skin associated with jaundice and is produced when red blood cells break down. When high levels of bilirubin (or hyperbilirubinaemia) cross the membrane protecting the brain, problems including brain damage, hearing loss and even death can occur.

Medical professionals can prevent kernicterus by taking immediate action when a baby displays the first signs of kernicterus - in particular, jaundice. Light therapy or an exchange blood transfusion can reduce high bilirubin levels.

Once an infant has developed kernicterus, the effects are usually irreversible, so it is imperative that doctors take fast action when warning signs occur. Despite this, healthcare professionals do not have enough awareness of the dangers of severe jaundice in babies and we continue to see many cases of kernicterus at JMW.

Hyperbilirubinemia and Neonatal Jaundice

Hyperbilirubinemia is a severe form of jaundice that, if left untreated or if treatment is delayed due to a delay in diagnosis, can lead to the development of kernicterus. Although rare, hyperbilirubinemia is a very serious condition in newborn babies. Jaundice - caused by an accumulation of bilirubin - in newborn babies is common and normally resolves without treatment.

However, in some babies, particularly premature babies, the condition can develop as the liver is unable to clear the bilirubin adequately. Neonatal units should carefully monitor babies who are at 'high risk' and should review blood levels of bilirubin if they have any suspicion of hyperbilirubinemia.

Phototherapy is the usual treatment for hyperbilirubinemia; however advanced cases may require a blood transfusion. 

Making Kernicterus a Never Event

The specialist solicitors at JMW currently represent numerous children from across England and Wales who have kernicterus due to failures in care. These children were born perfectly healthy, but after suffering kernicterus brain damage in the first few days of their life are now severely disabled and in need of specialist care for the rest of their lives.

JMW is calling for kernicterus to be added to the NHS never event list, a register of serious but largely avoidable patient safety incidents that should never happen if medical staff have taken adequate preventative measures.

Adding kernicterus to the NHS never events list would raise its profile both within the NHS and externally. This, in turn, could help to ensure that there is greater awareness and put firmer emphasis on the NHS to ensure neonatal care providers receive the training and guidance they need on the treatment of newborn jaundice.

NHS trusts need to diligently record incidences of never events and occurrences are frequently reported by the national and regional media and their prevention is a key focus of the NHS and government.

Furthermore, whole families find the consequences of kernicterus are absolutely devastating. Coming to terms with and coping with the severe disabilities it causes is extremely hard, more so because the child was born without disability and with their whole life ahead of them. Kernicterus has a huge financial and emotional toll on victims' families. Care, equipment and accommodation costs can run into the millions while families are put under unimaginable pressure.

Medical Negligence and Kernicterus

Although jaundice in babies is common, kernicterus is rare. Jaundice that appears in the first 24 hours of life may be a sign of an underlying problem, however, and needs urgent investigation.

We have come across several cases where midwives have failed to appreciate that early signs of jaundice can lead to kernicterus. Instead of checking the baby’s bilirubin levels, midwives have told parents to put the baby in the window to get some sunlight. This action has no benefit to babies with hyperbilirubinaemia at all.

Early recognition of the problem, with testing of bilirubin levels, is crucial. If the baby has a rising bilirubin level, this can be quickly treated with phototherapy, or if necessary, a blood transfusion.

If you think your baby may have been affected by kernicterus due to medical negligence, our experienced solicitors may be able to help you make a claim for compensation. 

Why Choose JMW?

The specialist solicitors at JMW have successfully managed numerous multi-million-pound claims for compensation for the families of young children who developed kernicterus due to negligence. We have built a reputation as leading specialists in claims for birth injuries, thanks to our wealth of experience, which is crucial for bringing a successful case.

As with other neonatal injuries, kernicterus cases are often strongly contested so it is essential that a legal challenge is brought by a lawyer with experience in this field. Making a successful claim increases the chances of improving a child's quality of life by providing help with the cost of transport, care and adaptations to the home, among other expenses.

Our team is headed by leading solicitor Eddie Jones and is widely recognised as one of the best clinical negligence departments in England and Wales. Several of our solicitors form part of the Law Society's specialist panel for clinical negligence, while a number are also members of the Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) solicitor panel.

JMW has supported CBIT since 2012 and in March 2015 we started a three-year project as the charity's Legal Support Service Provider in the North West.

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If you think your baby may have been affected by kernicterus due to medical negligence, our experienced solicitors may be able to help you make a claim for compensation.

Getting in touch with us could not be easier, simply call us on 0800 054 6512 or complete our online enquiry form and we will get back to you at a convenient time. We understand how difficult it can be to go through something as traumatic as this, and our expert assistance can provide the guidance and support you need.

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