Kernicterus and Newborn Jaundice

As many as six out of ten infants born in the United States are diagnosed with jaunduce, which is a condition where high levels of bilirubin in the blood causes a baby to appear "yellow." 

Jaundice is a normal occurrence.  In most cases, babies with high bilirubin levels can be treated by phototherapy (i.e., blue light treatment), a bili-blanket or, in extreme cases, an exchange transfusion (i.e., removal of toxic bilirubin from the blood).  Bilirubin toxicity is not normal.  Common signs that a baby is experiencing bilirubin toxicity include:
  • abnormalities of tone;
  • lethargy;
  • high-pitched cry;
  • arching of the back (known as retrocollis/opisthotonus); and
  • fever.
Excessive jaunduce can lead to kernicterus, which is a severe form of brain damage.  Quite literally, kernicterus means a yellow-stained kernel of the brain.  The relevant "kernels" are the the deep nuclei of the brain.  In most cases, damage to the basal ganglia is permanent and results in, e.g., cerebral palsy.  Clinically, babies with kernicterus present with one or more of the following symptoms:
  • movement disorders (e.g., hypertonia, hypotonia, or a variation thereof);
  • hearing loss and/or deafness;
  • impairment of eye movements (especially upward gaze);
  • abnormal staining of enamel of baby teeth.
Failure to diagnose and treat hyperbilirubinemia is on the rise across the United States.  The failure to identify this medical emergency is wholly avoidable medical malpractice as, any doctor who suspects an elevated bilirubin level, has nothing to lose by ordering a lab test and starting treatment with phototherapy, gavage feeding and hydration.  As with many infant brain injuries, every minute counts.

The trial lawyers at Bottar Law, PLLC, have decades of experience investigating, prosecuting and trying to verdict medical malpractice and birth injury cases involving bilirubin toxicity.  If your baby has been diagnosed with jaundice, hyperbilirubinemia and/or kernicterus with complications, you and your family may be entitled to compensation for lifelong health care, medical expenses, medical bills, loss of income, and pain and suffering. 

To discuss your case or concerns with an experienced Central New York medical malpractice and birth injury attorney, contact us now at (315) 422-3466, (800) 336-LAWS, or by e-mail at