Delayed Kernicterus Diagnosis and Medical Malpractice

Brachial Plexus Injury, delayed kernicterus diagnosis

Understanding Why a Delayed Kernicterus Diagnosis and Medical Malpractice Could be Related in Oregon

Kernicterus is a rare but often incredibly damaging condition that affects newborns. It has to do with the body’s processing of bilirubin, or the substance that is responsible for a yellow-like appearance in babies. Therefore, it is essentially when jaundice continues to the point where it becomes toxic to the brain and other structures in the body. Some statistics indicate that kernicterus occurs at a rate of 1 to 2 out of every 100,000 live births. Which can be tricky considering that other statistics reveal that jaundice occurs in roughly 60% of babies. Therefore, when jaundice goes untreated, it could develop into kernicterus and harm an innocent baby. When there is a delayed kernicterus diagnosis and medical malpractice occurring, it could cause permanent and even fatal personal injuries. If this happened to your baby, you should call an experienced medical malpractice lawyer in Oregon to protect your rights to compensation.

Here at Kuhlman Law, we understand how important it is for victims and their families to get proper representation when a healthcare provider’s negligence causes serious or fatal injuries. Although most healthcare providers get it right, far too many do not. When it comes to jaundice and kernicterus, it should never happen and result in serious injuries to victims and their families. But it does. When that happens, contact our personal injury law firm to learn more about your rights to compensation under Oregon law during a free consultation with our kernicterus lawyer in Bend and Portland.

What is Jaundice?


Jaundice is a medical condition characterized by the yellowing of the skin, mucous membranes, and whites of the eyes. It occurs when there is an excess of bilirubin in the blood, a yellow pigment produced during the breakdown of red blood cells. Jaundice can be a symptom of an underlying health issue and may indicate a problem with the liver, gallbladder, or bile ducts.

The general symptoms of jaundice include the following:

  • Yellowing of the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes
  • Dark urine
  • Pale-colored stools
  • Itchy skin
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain or swelling, and
  • Other related conditions that our medical malpractice lawyer in Oregon knows should be evaluated and treated immediately.

What is Kernicterus?


Kernicterus is a rare but serious condition that can occur in infants as a result of severe jaundice that does untreated. Jaundice in newborns is a common and usually benign condition caused by elevated levels of bilirubin in the blood, leading to a yellowing of the skin and eyes. However, if the levels of bilirubin become extremely high and are not properly managed, it can lead to kernicterus, which involves the deposition of bilirubin in the brain tissues. This is known as hyperbilirubinemia, which is toxic to certain tissue.

Here are key points to understand about kernicterus:

Risk Factors

  • Premature birth: Premature infants may have underdeveloped livers, making them more susceptible.
  • Breastfeeding jaundice: Inadequate intake of breast milk may contribute to higher bilirubin levels.
  • Blood type incompatibility: Rh or ABO blood type incompatibility between the mother and baby can lead to increased bilirubin production.

Symptoms of Kernicterus


  • Yellow skin, mucus membranes, or the whites of the eyes
  • Seizures
  • Abnormal muscle tone, such as stiffness or floppiness
  • Poor feeding
  • Arching of the back
  • High-pitched crying
  • Excessive sleeping or fatigue



Kernicterus results from the accumulation of bilirubin in the brain, leading to permanent damage.

It can cause long-term neurological impairments, including intellectual disabilities, movement disorders, and hearing loss. Because excessive bilirubin is toxic to the brain and other structures, the damage done is like a poison to vulnerable tissue. Specifically, the peripheral nervous system could be injured by the excessive bilirubin, including the hands, feet, fingers, and toes. There could also be damage to a victim’s vision, hearing, sense of smell, or other senses.

Prevention and Treatment

Management of jaundice in newborns involves monitoring bilirubin levels and, if necessary, treatment with phototherapy or exchange transfusion to lower bilirubin levels. Sometimes prevention measures include ensuring proper feeding, monitoring bilirubin levels, and addressing risk factors. Other times it may be more drastic, including using certain medications or procedures, including partial blood transfusions, to treat very serious and damaging instances of kernicterus.


Kernicterus is a preventable condition through proper monitoring and management of jaundice in newborns. Timely intervention and appropriate treatment are crucial in preventing the progression to kernicterus and reducing the risk of long-term neurological complications in affected infants. It underscores the importance of routine newborn care and follow-up assessments to identify and address any potential issues related to jaundice. Any delays and failures to treat kernicterus or jaundice should be evaluated by our kernicterus lawyer in Bend and Portland.

Is a Delayed Kernicterus Diagnosis and Medical Malpractice the Same Thing?


Determining whether a delay in the diagnosis of kernicterus constitutes medical malpractice in Oregon depends on various factors, including the specific circumstances of the case, the standard of care, and whether the delay resulted in harm to the baby. All of these considerations are complicated and should be examined by an experienced medical malpractice lawyer, such as ours at Kuhlman Law.

In general, medical malpractice involves a healthcare professional failing to provide a standard of care that is considered reasonable and customary within their field, and this failure leads to harm or injury to the patient. This failure to comply with the standard of care is known as a breach of that duty or, more appropriately in a medical malpractice context, a deviation from the standard of care. In the context of kernicterus, if there is a delay in diagnosing and treating severe jaundice, resulting in permanent neurological damage to the newborn, it may be considered medical malpractice.

Key considerations in assessing whether there is a delayed kernicterus diagnosis and medical malpractice case include:

  • What was the applicable standard of care? – Was the healthcare provider’s action or inaction consistent with the standard of care expected in their field? This includes assessing whether the provider followed established guidelines for monitoring and treating jaundice in newborns.
  • Timeliness of Diagnosis and Treatment – Was there a delay in diagnosing and treating severe jaundice? Delays that lead to preventable harm may be a factor in determining malpractice.
  • Was there Causation? – Did the delay directly contribute to the harm suffered by the baby? It must be established that the delay was a significant factor or proximate cause in resulting in damages to the baby.
  • What was the Documentation and Communication by the healthcare provider? – Were appropriate steps taken to communicate concerns, share information among healthcare providers, and ensure timely intervention? Was a diagnosis made but not told to the family?

Was a Loved One Injured by Medical Malpractice in Oregon? Was it a Delayed Kernicterus Diagnosis and Medical Malpractice? Call Kuhlman Law in Portland and Bend


If you or a loved one have been seriously injured or wrongfully killed as a result of medical malpractice contact the Oregon Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Kuhlman Law at our number below or fill out the intake form.  We offer a free initial case evaluation and handle cases on a contingency fee which means that you pay no money unless we recover.

Our law firm handles cases throughout the state including Bend and Portland Oregon, Redmond, Central Oregon, Sisters, Madras, Multnomah County, Deschutes County, Salem, Eugene, Corvallis, Lane County, Medford, Gresham, La Grande, Albany, Medford, Beaverton, Umatilla, Pendleton,  Cottage Grove, Florence, Oregon City, Springfield, Keizer, Grants Pass, McMinnville, Tualatin, West Linn, Forest Grove, Wilsonville, Newberg, Roseburg, Lake Oswego, Klamath Falls, Happy Valley, Tigard, Ashland, Milwakie, Coos Bay, The Dalles,  St. Helens, Sherwood, Central Point, Canby, Troutdale, Hermiston, Silverton, Hood River, Newport, Prineville, Astoria, Tillamook, Lincoln City, Hillsboro, and Vancouver, Washington.

We also have an office in Minneapolis, Minnesota and take medical malpractice cases throughout the Twin Cities, including St. Paul, Hennepin County, Ramsey County, Dakota County, Washington County, Anoka County, Scott County, Blaine, Stillwater, and Saint Paul Minnesota.

For a free case evaluation


(541) 385-1999 in Bend, Oregon
(503) 479-3646 in Portland, Oregon
(612) 444-3374 in Minnesota

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