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Shaken Baby Syndrome Cases

February 28, 2023 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

Shaken baby syndrome cases are more complicated than most personal injury lawsuits because, in addition to the civil case, the perpetrator is usually charged with criminal child abuse. The situation is often complicated because the perpetrator is frequently one of the baby’s parents or a partner of one of the parents. 

What Is Shaken Baby Syndrome?

Shaken baby syndrome is one of the most common forms of abusive head trauma, a category of physical child abuse. Abusive head trauma can refer to any traumatic brain injury caused by an abuser. However, shaken baby syndrome refers specifically to an assortment of symptoms and injuries that result from a baby being shaken violently.

How Does Shaken Baby Syndrome Happen?

The most common cause of shaken baby syndrome is when a caregiver becomes frustrated because a baby won’t stop crying. The caregiver picks up and shakes the baby in an attempt to stop the fussing.

Babies are born with large heads and weak neck muscles. When an adult shakes an infant, their head snaps back and forth. This can result in broken bones, damage to the spinal cord, and bruising, bleeding, and swelling in the brain.

Shaken baby syndrome is not caused by bouncing up and down on your knees or bumps resulting from short falls while playing.

What Are the Immediate Signs of Shaken Baby Syndrome?

According to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, the immediate signs of shaken baby syndrome often include:

  • Bruises on the arms or chest (where they’ve been grabbed)
  • Being extra sleepy
  • Being extra irritable
  • Not smiling or babbling
  • Not eating well or vomiting
  • Problems with breathing
  • Seizures
  • Swelling at the soft spot on top of their head
  • Eyes don’t focus or follow movement

If you recognize any of these symptoms, bring your baby to a pediatrician or hospital as soon as possible. Invisible internal brain or spinal cord injuries can result in brain damage or death, and such injuries are likely to worsen without immediate treatment.

Indiana law (Indiana Code 31-33-5-1) requires anyone who sees or suspects child abuse to report it to the police or the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS). The Indiana DCS has an anonymous hotline for reporting child abuse that is available 24/7.

What Are the Long-Term Consequences of Shaken Baby Syndrome?

According to the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP), almost 25% of infants affected by shaken baby syndrome die. Of those who survive, about 70% have long-term neurological problems. These problems include:

  • Permanent brain damage, which can affect:
    • Motor control
    • Intellectual ability
    • Learning ability
    • Behavior
  • Cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects coordination, balance, and movement and may be accompanied by intellectual disabilities and problems with speech and vision
  • Cortical blindness, a partial or total loss of sight caused by damage to the area of the brain that processes input from the eyes
  • Seizures

What Are the Risk Factors for Shaken Baby Syndrome?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) publishes an annual report on child maltreatment. HHS considers the following risk factors for child abuse:

  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Financial problems
  • Housing problems (“substandard, overcrowded, or unsafe housing” and homelessness)
  • Participation in social services programs
  • Caregiver disabilities (including physical, intellectual, and emotional disabilities)

Child Abuse Statistics

According to the HHS 2020 report on child maltreatment, more than 90% of all child abuse cases involve one or both parents. Some cases involve relatives (5.4%) and unmarried partners (3.3%), and even fewer involve friends and neighbors, daycare providers, foster parents, and group home staff.

The younger children are, the more likely they are to be abused—25% of all abuse cases in 2020 involved children less than one year old.

In 2020 in Indiana, there were:

  • 22,648 victims of child abuse in 2020
  • 1,596 victims of physical abuse
  • 56 child abuse fatalities

Most Indiana child abuse victims in 2020 suffered from neglect (86.6%) rather than physical abuse (7%).

What’s the Difference Between Shaken Baby Syndrome and Birth Injuries?

Although shaken baby syndrome is a common cause of brain injuries in children, it is not considered a birth injury. Birth injuries are injuries to infants that result from the labor and delivery process. Some birth injuries are unavoidable, and others are the result of negligence on the part of health care providers. Common birth injuries include anything from minor bruising to broken bones, cerebral palsy, and brain damage. If you suspect a doctor or nurse’s negligence caused your baby’s birth, contact the Indianapolis birth injury lawyers of Wilson Kehoe Winingham to discuss your case.

What’s Involved in a Shaken Baby Syndrome Court Case?

A person who causes injuries by shaking a baby can be charged with criminal child abuse. In addition, they are also liable in civil court for damages resulting from shaken baby syndrome, including:

  • Medical bills for the child’s immediate treatment
  • Expenses for the child’s long-term care
  • Compensating the victim’s family for their pain and suffering

If your child is a victim of shaken baby syndrome, you may be able to seek compensation from your (former) spouse or partner or from a babysitter, daycare provider, or foster parent through a  personal injury lawsuit against the perpetrator. If the abuse took place at a daycare center, group home, or other institution, both the individual perpetrator and the institution may be liable for damages.

Your lawyer will most likely undertake a thorough investigation of the case and may enlist the help of a shaken baby syndrome expert witness to corroborate the diagnosis.

Experienced Indianapolis Shaken Baby Syndrome Lawyers

Shaken baby syndrome cases are complex and require the help of attorneys that are familiar with this form of child abuse, the injuries it causes, and how to hold those responsible for inflicting it on a child accountable for their actions. If you suspect that your child is a victim of shaken baby syndrome, the lawyers at WKW can help you seek compensation to help cover the cost of caring for your child. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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