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Kernicterus, jaundice &
hyperbilirubinemia claims

Kernicterus, jaundice & hyperbilirubinemia claims

How much can you claim?

A newborn baby developed kernicterus as the result of a hospital's failure to diagnose hyperbilirubinemia. This led to severe brain damage, cerebral palsy and profound deafness. She was awarded:


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Claiming for kernicterus

Medical negligence whilst uncommon can have a big impact on your life and wellbeing.

Kernicterus is a rare but serious complication of newborn jaundice that can have a devastating impact on the baby affected and their family. Thanks to excellent medical standards, this avoidable condition, occurs in a very limited number of cases in the UK. However, some babies are let down by the healthcare system and the urgent treatment they need to avoid brain damage because medical negligence occurs.

Discovering your newborn has any type of condition can be traumatic but if you realise that it could have been avoided, it can be a further blow. Kernicterus can be avoided with the proper treatment and monitoring of jaundice, where this hasn’t occurred it can affect your confidence in those responsible for your baby’s care. We understand that a compensation claim won’t undo the harm that has been done to your child but it can help you understand what went wrong and provide financial support while you make necessary adjustments.

Some children affected by kernicterus are left with permanent, severe brain damage that will have an impact throughout their life. The compensation awarded from a successful claim can help provide the specialist equipment or care that they may now need. Legal claims can be a daunting prospect but with the backing of the Your Legal Friend team, your kernicterus claim will be as smooth as possible. We work with you from the outset to give your case the best possible chance of success and to relieve as much stress as possible.

For a confidential chat, call one of our experts today  0808 301 8622    As seen on TV

The time limit on making a kernicterus claim

Medical claims must be brought forward within a three-year period, after this point you will no longer be able to make a case.

The time limit starts from the ‘date of knowledge’, while this phrase can be confusing, it simply means that date that you first became aware that medical negligence has happened. For some victims of medical negligence it can be difficult to work out when this point happened, particularly if there were misdiagnosis or delays in diagnosis. This is an area where our expert team can help you.

If you do not claim within the set time period, your claim will be considered ‘statute barred’ or ‘out of time’ and will unfortunately not be taken further. There are two exceptions to this rule, in the case of children and if the negligence directly led to a fatality. In these cases suing the NHS for negligence is still possible as the date on which time begins to run is the date of the child’s 18th birthday, and in the case of fatalities, from the date of death.

We’ll work with you on your kernicterus case to assess exactly how long you have to take the next step, giving you peace of mind. Despite having up to three years, we advise all victims of medical negligence to seek professional advice sooner. It can not only mean that your case is resolved quicker but it can support your claim too. When you work with us, we’ll gather a variety of evidence, including medical records and witness statements, to build your case. These vital pieces of evidence are typically easier to obtain the closer to the ‘date of knowledge’ they are requested, speeding up the whole process.

Throughout your claim, Your Legal Friend will help you every step of the way

  • Specialist team of medical negligence solicitors
  • A wealth of knowledge and expertise
  • Advice, support and guidance throughout your claim
  • No win, no fee – guaranteed
  • Over 30 years’ experience in personal injury compensation
I am very happy and satisfied with the settlement you achieved for me and the service was excellent and thank you very much

Mrs E. Swaffield

Our kernicterus claims experience

Our medical negligence team has years of experience working on a wide variety of birth injury cases so we understand just how difficult a decision it can be to bring a kernicterus case.

That’s why we are committed to guiding you through every step of the process. We ensure that your claim is handled carefully and professionally by our specialist solicitors, while working alongside medical experts, to guarantee the best results for you.

Our birth injury team is headed by Laura Morgan who has a wealth of experience in leading complicated, high value kernicterus cases.

Laura is recognised within the legal profession as a leader in the field of medical negligence and serious injury compensation. Laura has acted in a wide range of cases over her 17 years of practice and has particular expertise in acting for children who have suffered brain injury due to mismanaged birth or surgical errors, and in managing claims that have resulted in the death of a loved one. Laura has achieved a number of large settlements including £5.4 million for a 7 year old and £4 million for an 11 year old child.

Laura’s expertise and dedication to her clients is recognised in the Chambers guide to the Legal Profession in which she was praised for the efficiency of her approach to case handling and described as “tenacious and detail-oriented”.

Laura has been a member of the Law Society Clinical Negligence Panel since 2005 and accredited as a Senior Litigator in the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) since 2006. Laura is also a member of the specialist lawyers panel for Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA), the UK’s leading charity committed to patient safety and justice.

The effects of medical negligence can be devastating for the individual and their families, so securing appropriate compensation for them as quickly as possible is our top priority.

Laura Morgan
Director of Medical Negligence

*Our No Win, No Fee agreement

Pay nothing if you lose your case, get maximum compensation if you win

Whatever the nature of your birth injury claim, we always seek the maximum level of compensation for our clients – and if your case is unsuccessful, we don’t charge you any fees. This is our guarantee for all standard birth injury claims.

With our no win, no fee guarantee, you pay nothing, unless you win your compensation claim. At that point you will only pay your insurance premium, if applicable, and the success fee, which will never be more than 25% of the amount you win.

No Win, No Fee Solicitors

Start your claim in 10 minutes

For a FREE, confidential, no-obligation assessment of your claim, simply complete this short form. We aim to call you back within 10 minutes.

For a confidential chat, call one of our experts today  0808 301 8622    As seen on TV

The kernicterus claims process

Step 1 - Obtaining your medical records

We ask you to sign forms of authority so that we can obtain your medical records from your GP and any hospitals that have treated you.

Step 2 - Providing your statement of what happened

As the medical experts we instruct need to know what happened during your treatment, we work with you to draft a detailed, accurate statement in your own words.

Step 3 - Minimising your loss

You are responsible for minimising the losses you have incurred as a result of the alleged medical negligence, so you need to attend any available treatments that could aid your recovery.  You may also need to return to work as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Step 4 - Establishing that a breach of duty occurred

You must prove that the treatment you received fell below the standard expected of a reasonably competent and skilful medical specialist of the type who treated you and that, as a result, you suffered a loss or injury.  To do this, we obtain independent medical evidence from an expert in the appropriate area of medicine.

Step 5 - Establishing the effect of the breach of duty

We have to establish whether the sub-standard treatment you received is likely to have led to your injury or loss. As this can be difficult to establish, you may need to see one or more medical experts who will assess your current condition and what the future holds for you.

Step 6 - Calculating the value of your claim

The value of your claim comprises:

  • general damages for the pain, suffering and impact of the negligence on your daily life both now and in the future
  • actual financial losses such as loss of earnings, cost of care, medical and travel expenses.

Step 7 - Proving your loss

You need to keep all original financial documents safe as these will be needed when we prepare your case to go to Court. These documents include accounts, payslips, and receipts for expenses and medical treatments.

Step 8 - Preparing your case for Court

Although only a small number of cases proceed to a trial, we prepare every case for this eventuality.

Step 9 - Attending the trial in Court

The trial takes place before a Circuit or High Court judge who will make a decision based on the evidence we have prepared.

Step 10 - Awarding your compensation claim

If you win your case, the amount of compensation will be decided by negotiation with the defendant or, if your case goes to trial, by the judge. The defendant will usually be ordered to pay us the costs we have incurred in preparing your case. We will also agree a date by which your compensation will be paid to us so that we can pay your compensation as quickly as possible.

Frequently asked questions

Can I claim for kernicterus?

You may be able to make a claim if your baby was affected by kernicterus due to medical negligence. In order to be successful, you must be able to demonstrate that medical negligence both occurred and that is caused undue suffering.

There are many ways that kernicterus can be linked to medical negligence, including:

  • The newborn physical examination not being conducted
  • High levels of bilirubin not being monitored adequately
  • Jaundice being identified but necessary treatment not being delivered
  • Treatment not being monitored to measure its success
  • Treatment after kernicterus has been diagnosed being unnecessarily delayed

Once kernicterus has developed brain damage has already occurred but effective treatment can limit the severity of the resulting damage be reducing levels of bilirubin in the blood. When it comes to showing that undue suffering has been caused, kernicterus claims will often centre on the brain damage that the condition has caused, in some cases this is mild but in others it can be severe. You can also show undue suffering in other ways, such as the impact it will have on your quality of life.

How much compensation will I get?

Medical negligence compensation cases take into account how each individual has been affected by the sub-standard level of care they received. As a result, it’s impossible to tell you how much compensation your personal case could be worth without first discussing it with you.

While we can’t say how much compensation you could receive, previous successful kernicterus cases have secured millions, reflecting the damage that has been caused. The claim will take into consideration the impact of negligence, so babies that will require lifelong care will receive a greater amount than those that can be independent as they get older. Claims can also take a wide variety of areas into consideration, such as travel expenses or the impact negligence may have had on your finances if you’ve had to take additional time off work.

When you choose to work with Your Legal Friend, we’ll take the time to understand fully how you and your child have been affected. Armed with all the information that we need, we’ll give your claim a value that reflects your personal situation and work on your behalf to secure the best outcome possible.

How long do I have to make a claim?

If your child has been affected by kernicterus and experienced medical negligence, you have up to three years to make a claim.

This is the same time limit that all medical claims are subject to. It’s key to note when this time limit begins. Rather than starting when the medical negligence occurs, it starts from when you first realised that mistakes has been made, legally referred to as the ‘date of knowledge’. In cases of kernicterus, it’s often clear that medical negligence has happened soon after it occurs, as it typically develops quickly.

However, there are instance where the negligence or its full impact isn’t recognised for months. This can make it difficult to understand exactly how long you have to take action. If you’re unsure, our team of kernicterus medical negligence solicitors, are on hand to offer you support. Using our skills and expertise we’ll pinpoint when you need to act by.

While you do have up to three years to bring your case forward, we strongly advise that where possible you start the process sooner. We understand that after your child has been affected by kernicterus, seeking to make a legal case will often be the last thing on your mind. However, it can help to support your claim by making the case building process simpler for our team working on your behalf.

What is kernicterus?

Kernicterus is an extremely rare complication of jaundice in newborns. It’s caused by excess bilirubin in the blood that cross the thin layer of tissue that separates the blood and the brain. It can cause damage to both the brain and the central nervous system. As it’s a complication, it’s avoidable through giving the necessary treatment when bilirubin levels suggest that jaundice could develop into kernicterus.

Kernicterus causes brain damage, leading to permanent and serious side effects in babies that have been affected. In rare cases, where medical treatment isn’t given, it can cause death.

For a confidential chat, call one of our experts today  0808 301 8622    As seen on TV

What causes kernicterus?

Kernicterus occurs when levels of bilirubin in the blood become too high and cross into the brain.

Bilirubin is a substance that occurs when red blood cells are broken down, usually the liver processes bilirubin allowing it to be eliminated from the body naturally. For many reasons, higher than normal levels of bilirubin in the blood is common in newborns, causing a condition known as jaundice. Around six in ten babies are affected by jaundice but it is usually harmless and approximately just 20% require treatment. However, if necessary treatment isn’t delivered, jaundice can develop into the more harmful kernicterus.

A baby may be at risk of developing kernicterus if:

  • Levels of bilirubin in their blood are very high
  • The amount of bilirubin in their blood is rapidly rising
  • Necessary treatment for jaundice isn’t delivered

Is kernicterus avoidable?

Through proper treatment for jaundice, kernicterus is avoidable. There are a range of ways that jaundice can be treated, including phototherapy and a blood transfusion, reducing the levels of bilirubin in the blood and removing the risk of kernicterus developing.

What are the symptoms of kernicterus?

As kernicterus develops from jaundice, it’s important to recognise the signs of this condition when monitoring your baby’s condition too. Symptoms of jaundice include:

  • Yellowing of the skin, typically starting on the head and face before spreading
  • Poor feeding
  • Being sleepy
  • A high-pitched cry
  • Being floppy or limp
  • Dark, yellow urine
  • Poo that is pale coloured

The initial symptoms of kernicterus are the baby’s muscles becoming unusually floppy and poor feeding, the same as with jaundice. Babies affected by kernicterus will also have a decreased awareness of the world around them, for instance, not reacting to sounds or movements as they usually would.

As kernicterus progresses and affects more of the brain, additional symptoms can include the arching of the neck and spine and seizures. Any of the symptoms of kernicterus should be taken seriously, as the quicker treatment is delivered the better the opportunity to limit the long-term effects of the condition.

For a confidential chat, call one of our experts today  0808 301 8622    As seen on TV

How is kernicterus diagnosed?

In most cases, jaundice is diagnosed during the newborn physical examination, which should be conducted within the first 72 hours following birth. This allows medical professionals to identify babies that have high levels of bilirubin in their blood. In most cases, no treatment will be needed but levels should be monitored, allowing those that are at risk of developing kernicterus to begin treatment when necessary.

If jaundice isn’t diagnosed or monitored properly, kernicterus can still be diagnosed using the same processes. Most commonly, a bilirubin test will be completed. This can be done through a blood sample being taken from your baby’s heel to measure the levels of bilirubin or by using a bilirubinometer, which will calculate levels by analysing how light is reflected or absorbed by the baby’s skin.

Sometimes further tests are conducted to assess what is causing the high levels of bilirubin and to determine the extent of the brain damage that has occurred, allowing doctors to deliver the most effective treatment.

Can kernicterus be misdiagnosed?

It is possible for misdiagnosis to occur if your baby has jaundice, leading to kernicterus potentially developing. However, it is more likely that while the symptoms of jaundice are noted that necessary treatment isn’t delivered because those responsible for the care of your baby don’t take the necessary steps to assess or monitor the levels of bilirubin within the blood.

Whether your child has been misdiagnosed or a delayed diagnosis has occurred, it can place them at significant risk. If you’ve been affected you have the right to hold those responsible to account. You can do so by taking your medical negligence claim to court, an area that our professional team have extensive experience in.

How is kernicterus treated?

In most cases an exchange transfusion, also known as a blood transfusion, is used to treat kernicterus.

A blood transfusion is used to lower the levels of bilirubin in the baby’s blood. It does this by removing small amounts of blood and replacing it with blood from a donor of the same blood group. This new blood won’t contain any bilirubin and as a result the treatment quickly lowers the overall levels. During and following a blood transfusion babies that have kernicterus should be closely monitored to indicate the success of the treatment and highlight if the procedure needs to be repeated.

Kernicterus causes brain damage but with treatment that is delivered swiftly, it is possible to limit the impact and some children may not have any long-term, severe complications or symptoms. However, where treatment isn’t delivered quickly enough, significant brain damage can happen, causing serious problems and can even prove fatal.

Can kernicterus be prevented?

When not treated quickly, kernicterus can cause long-term effects, some of which can mean a child requires lifelong care. For this reason, it’s vital that the signs of jaundice are noted and the steps to assess whether treatment is necessary are taken.

Kernicterus can cause significant brain damage, leading to permanent problems such as:

Cerebral palsy

Cerebral palsy is a name for a group of conditions that affect movement and co-ordination. It’s can be caused by kernicterus causing damage to the brain but there are also other ways that cerebral palsy can develop. The condition affects each person differently and it can be hard for medical professionals to predict your child’s prognosis. However, it can affect their independence and present challenges with daily routines.

Hearing loss

Known as auditory neuropathy, kernicterus can cause hearing difficulties. This complication can range from a baby having a difficulty processing sounds to becoming completely deaf.

Learning difficulties

Some learning difficulties have also been associated with kernicterus. In most cases, these learning difficulties are mild but they can have a significant impact on your child’s life.

Involuntary twitching

Some children that have been affected by kernicterus, may experience involuntary twitching of different parts of their body. The severity of this can vary and, in some cases, it can affect a person’s ability to conduct daily tasks without assistance or specialist equipment.

Eye problems

Usual movement of the eyes can be affected by kernicterus. Those that have been affected tend to gaze upwards or look from side to side, rather than looking straight ahead.

Poor teeth development

Kernicterus can also affect the development of teeth, causing stains on the enamel of the primary teeth. 

The permanent effects of kernicterus highlight just how important the detection and monitoring of jaundice is. Where those responsible for the care of your child have failed to take the necessary steps to limit long-term complications, you may be able to make a compensation claim against those responsible.

Are there examples of kernicterus in the UK?

While very rare in the UK, there are examples of kernicterus occurring in newborns, including where it has caused lifelong disabilities. News stories have shown examples of families that have been affected by kernicterus medical negligence and sought compensation for the mistakes that were made in the care of their children.

Among the kernicterus stories are:

  • A mother winning compensation after her son was left brain damaged when midwives allegedly failed to act on jaundice. While hospital bosses did not admit liability, the mother claimed midwives did not carry out through checks, leaving her son blind, unable to speak, and with cerebral palsy.
  • A baby being left with severe brain damage after doctors decided not to give him a £1 blood test despite the signs of jaundice being evident. As doctors stated his condition was normal, necessary tests were not carried out. Rea
  • A newborn being left severely brain damaged after a student midwife did not follow guidelines when visiting the family of a baby that was showing symptoms of jaundice. His parents have since called for a NHS screening programme. Read more.
  • A baby now needing lifelong care after becoming ill with kernicterus shortly after his birth. Midwives noted the baby’s signs of jaundice but failed to carry out tests or refer him to hospital. The kernicterus diagnosis delay meant that is was too late for treatment when the problems were noticed. Read more.
  • A family securing an £8 million payout after their child was left with brain damage because jaundice was not picked up by staff. Read more.

What are the statistics on kernicterus?

Newborn jaundice is very common, affecting around 60% of all babies. However, in most cases babies do no need any treatment and it very rarely develops into kernicterus. Less than 1 baby in every 100,000 born in the UK will be affected by kernicterus, in fact, it’s so rare there were just eight hospital admissions for the condition in England in 2013-14.