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Medical Malpractice for Children born with Cleft Palate/Cleft Lip

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Missed and Delayed Diagnosis, Surgical Repair Mistakes, and Other Types of Negligence with Cleft Lip & Cleft Palate

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s data, one in 1,700 newborns in the United States is born with a cleft palate, a birth defect of the mouth. The deformation occurs early in a fetus’s development when the roof of the mouth does not fully form, leaving an opening or cleft that divides the roof in two. The cleft may be located more on one side of the mouth than the other and may affect only the soft palate (back of the palate) or the entire palate. Babies born with cleft palates often face health challenges from poor nutrition, hearing loss, speech difficulties, and dental problems. As such, many parents opt for palatal surgery in hopes of improving the quality of their babies’ lives. Unfortunately, when surgery goes badly, parents and children suffer doubly, with dashed hopes and long-lasting treatment and recovery, if any. This is equally true for a child whose cleft palate could have been diagnosed sooner, with corrective action taken immediately to improve their health and life overall. Still more, mothers taking certain antidepressants and medications during pregnancy should be informed if such drugs have been tied to birth defects like cleft lip in babies. Failure to inform a mother with such crucial information may mean the pharmaceutical manufacturer, the physician, or both can be held liable.

The types of medical negligence that may occur with cleft palates among children abound. When this adversely impacts your child and your family, it is important to know your rights and seek legal counsel regarding your potential to recover compensation. Do not hesitate to reach out now to consult a knowledgeable cleft palate malpractice attorney on our legal team. The consultation is free and so is our representation unless we obtain a recovery on your behalf. Call 866-708-8617 for immediate assistance.

Risk Factors for Cleft Palate

What most doctors and scientists do not know, is what causes a cleft palate. Research shows that the birth defect arises from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Smokers, diabetics, and women who take certain drugs run higher risks than others for babies with cleft palates. For instance, seizure medications have been linked with cleft lip when taken by the mother during the first stage of pregnancy. Researchers continue to investigate possible correlations between other pharmaceuticals when taken prenatally, and existing studies have been revealing. For instance, the following medications can potentially raise risk of having a baby with cleft palate or cleft lip:

  • Topamax
  • Depakote (Valproic Acid)
  • Zofran
  • Accutane
  • Certain antidepressants such as Zoloft, Prozac, Effexor, Celexa, Paxil, and Lexapro

Once diagnosed, whether in utero via ultrasound or postnatally at the newborn’s first checkup, one or both cleft lip and palate orofacial defects can be corrected surgically through one or several procedures.

Cleft Palate Surgery Repair

Babies diagnosed with a cleft palate before or soon after birth can be prepared for surgery at six months and address symptoms immediately. Typically, a pediatrician develops a care plan for the baby to get them ready for surgery. In the baby’s first six weeks, a doctor can give parents help feeding their baby and assess the baby’s hearing. Then, three to six months after, the baby can have the first palatoplasty, followed by another one before the baby turns one. More often than not, cleft palate surgeries go well, as surgical technology and knowledge about the condition have advanced in the last decades. Palate surgery, or palatoplasty, involves repairing the opening in the palate, molding the soft palate for better speech delivery, slicing the palate to ease tension, and following up with adjustments as the child grows. Pediatric surgeons recommend palatoplasty in the first year of the child’s life, but further surgeries may be necessary as the child grows.

As the child begins to speak, around 18 months, a pediatrician or specialist can assess speech and hearing, which continues periodically until the child is school age. From around five to fifteen, the child’s doctor or doctors must track the child’s speech, hearing, and mouth development. For example, a child who continues to have speech difficulties even after surgery may need another palatoplasty or other surgeries to support jaw and teeth health as permanent teeth grow. A child or teenager may need a bone graft to repair further clefts or orthodontal care, perhaps even jaw surgery. Considering the need for continued examination and customized care to suit their situation, a child with cleft deformation may be a regular patient of both pediatric plastic and oral surgeons in the first 15 years of their life.

Medical Errors in Diagnosis and Treatment of Cleft Palate

While successful cleft palate repair surgeries far outnumber the botched ones, human error is bound to come into play on occasion. When it does, the costs are enormous. Medical errors, not only in performing surgery but in diagnosis and post-treatment management, are the source of medical malpractice claims with high awards to the injured child. Missed diagnoses delay treatment and prolonged suffering, while surgical errors can cause serious damage, such as brain damage. In addition, poor follow-up can leave patients susceptible to infection and complicated further surgeries.

For example, doctors who fail to manually check for palate deformities in the first postnatal checkup may miss diagnosing a cleft palate. Physicians typically place their fingers on the roof of the newborn’s mouth to find a cleft palate since the defect may not be apparent from the outside. In failing to check the palate and thereby missing the diagnosis, a child’s parents or caretakers may not know why their newborn cannot eat or breathe well. Additionally, the baby may scream from ear infections or ear pain that will not go away with an infant pain reliever or other earache home remedies. And since early diagnosis allows timely surgery, before the child turns one-year-old, missing the diagnosis could cause unnecessary suffering for the baby and their loved ones. When a more complicated surgery occurs later in the child’s life, it may pose additional risks for complications or result in lifelong suffering with the condition and its consequences.

Without a diagnosis or proper treatment plan, a child may not receive the repairs, therapies, and adaptive tools they need to live to their full potential. They may suffer needlessly and fall behind in school when they cannot hear or speak clearly. A child may need hearing aids and speech therapy throughout their life, when surgery may have alleviated the need for both. And while surgery has inherent risks, palate surgery comes with risks above and beyond common surgery risks, like infection, bleeding, and anesthesia reactions. The palate contains nearby nerves and blood vessels that, if accidentally severed, may cause facial paralysis or other health complications, including brain injury. In addition, by surgically correcting the wrong side of the mouth, a surgeon fails to fix the cleft and causes unnecessary surgical risk when the right side of the palate must later be fixed.

Other sources of malpractice include medication errors, whether those errors occur due to an anesthesiologist who fails to check for medication allergies or pediatricians who order postoperative pain and anti-infection medications incorrectly. For instance, they may contain ingredients the child is allergic to, be inappropriate for the child’s age, or be dosed in the wrong amount, all of which can lead to devastating adverse reactions. Even if the doctor prescribes the right medication, the wrong dosage for the child’s age and weight may also cause unintended harm.

A New Jersey Cleft Palate Malpractice Attorney can Help

When pediatricians, surgeons, and other medical professionals cause preventable injuries due to negligence with cleft palate or cleft lip, they harm not only children but their entire family. No one expects medical mistakes due to fatigue, disorganization, incompetence, or other contributing factors that occur on a regular basis. But when they do happen, the ones responsible for another’s harm, particularly an innocent child, must pay to remediate the damages as much as possible.

Medical malpractice cases on behalf of infants and children require extraordinary expertise in both legal and medical matters. For this reason, it is generally a good choice to seek guidance from a pediatric malpractice attorney with extensive experience in this highly specific area of law. Our team is prepared to assess the value, challenges, and strengths of your child’s cleft malpractice case and advise you further. Our dedicated lawyers have a host of strategies for negotiating claims and navigating the possible pitfalls of the court system to help you succeed. Contact our New Jersey location at 866-708-8617 for a free, no obligation consultation with an attorney today.

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  • How do I know if my child has a pediatric malpractice case?

    If your child suffered an injury, complications, or a medical condition resulting from medical negligence, you may have grounds for a pediatric malpractice or birth injury lawsuit. Learn more.

  • How can I get help to pay for my child's medical bills?

    If a doctor, nurse, hospital, or other healthcare provider failed to provide adequate care for your child and they suffered harm, you can pursue compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and more. Find out about damages.

  • How long do I have to file a pediatric malpractice claim?

    The statute of limitations to file a medical malpractice lawsuit varies from state to state. The time limits may begin when your child's condition is identified, not necessarily when it occurred. Contact us for information that applies to your child's specific case.

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