Life expectancy may vary widely for children with birth injuries, depending on the type and severity of the injury and the resulting conditions. Life expectancy is an important consideration during birth injury malpractice cases in which the party or parties responsible for the malpractice must cover the future costs of care for a child. The amount that must be paid is often determined based on the average annual costs of care and the life expectancy of the child.
Calculating Life Expectancy
Life expectancy is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the average number of years of life left for individuals that have reached a certain age. For example, a person born in 2009 has a life expectancy of 78.5 years. A person that was 35 years old as of 2009 has a life expectancy of 45.1 more years. These figures are calculated by figuring out the average number of years that each age group would live if the age-specific death rates prevailing in 2009 continued at the same rate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention generate life tables that break down life expectancy based on age, race, and gender for U.S. citizens.
Birth Injury Effect on Life Expectancy
Birth injuries that do not cause lasting conditions typically do not alter life expectancy calculations. Birth injuries that cause life altering conditions may change life expectancy to varying degrees. Life expectancy for children with birth injury conditions may be further altered by other factors that are related to the conditions, such as seizure disorders or breathing complications.
Cerebral Palsy Life Expectancy
A child that is diagnosed with cerebral palsy following a birth injury may have a shorter life expectancy than a child born without the condition. However, the overall life expectancy of a child with cerebral palsy may be altered by the effect that the condition has on the child’s motor functions, cognitive abilities, and ability to eat without assistance. Children with cerebral palsy that can walk and eat without assistance generally have a longer life expectancy than children with the same condition that cannot complete these actions without assistance.
Autism and Life Expectancy
Children with autism that retain gross motor functions may have a slightly decreased life expectancy compared to children of the same age that do not have autism. When severe cognitive impairments are present, life expectancy is reduced. Severe cognitive impairments increase the likelihood of early death due to seizures and suffocation injuries.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Children with spinal cord injuries tend to have a much shorter life expectancy than children of the same age without injuries. The degree of injury has a huge impact on the degree of reduction in life expectancy. For children with the most severe spinal cord injuries, for whom a ventilator is needed for respiration, life expectancy is approximately 50 percent of the normal life expectancy.
Medical Expert Testimony
In cases in which life expectancy with birth injuries must be taken into consideration, medical experts are usually called upon to testify. Medical experts will use a number of different factors, including the specifics of the birth injury and the patient’s gender, sex, and race to determine the life expectancy for the specific patient around which the lawsuit is based. This life expectancy will be used by the jury to determine compensation, but may not be the exact number that is used for the calculations.
Life Expectancy and Jury Calculations
When a jury is called upon to decide the number of years that compensation will be based on, life expectancy totals can help the jury to decide upon that calculation. In many cases, the victim’s attorney will provide one life expectancy calculation, while the attorney for the party responsible for birth injuries will provide another. Jurors may take these numbers into consideration, finding an average or going with the higher calculation in many cases. Victim’s attorneys often remind jurors that if children live longer than the life expectancy, the compensation provided may not be enough to cover the costs of care for the remainder of the child’s life.
Arias, Elizabeth. “National Vital Statistics Reports.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 Jan. 2014. Web. 28 Jan. 2015. <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr62/nvsr62_07.pdf>
“Cerebral Palsy Life Expectancy.” Birth Injury Guide. Birth Injury Guide, 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 28 Jan. 2015. <http://www.birthinjuryguide.org/cerebral-palsy/life-expectancy/>
“Life Expectancy for CP, VS, TBI and SCI.” Life Expectancy. The Life Expectancy Project, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 28 Jan. 2015. <http://www.lifeexpectancy.com/index.shtml>