Jaundice is the yellow coloring of the skin and other tissues. It is often seen in the sclera—the whites of the eyes—which become yellow. Some estimates show that about 60% of newborns in the United States are jaundiced, which might simply mean they look yellow.

However, most babies are not seriously jaundiced and react normally without further complications. Unfortunately, when jaundice severely affects an infant and goes untreated, the results can be catastrophic—including the development of kernicterus—or even fatal.

If your child was mistreated or completely untreated for infant jaundice in Michigan, you may be frightened and unsure of how to proceed. However, a well-practiced birth injury attorney might be able to help with filing a claim for compensation. While no amount of recovery may be able to undo the damage, it may help to ease your financial strain and allow you to focus on spending time with your child.

What are the Dangers of Untreated Infant Jaundice?

When diagnosed and treated promptly, most forms of infant jaundice pose virtually no long-term health threat to babies. However, when left untreated, severe jaundice can result in kernicterus, a type of brain damage that often features seizures. Kernicterus can lead to cerebral palsy, as well as hearing, vision, or dental disabilities.

Kernicterus is often completely preventable, even when the early stages of jaundice are present in infants. In fact, while over 60% of all babies develop at least a minor form of jaundice, kernicterus usually does not develop unless there has been some form of medical malpractice. Although kernicterus is completely preventable, the number of infants diagnosed with it has increased. Some of the reasons for this unfortunate statistic include:

  • Shorter hospital stays following the birth
  • Relaxed treatment guidelines for jaundice
  • Decreased public concern with jaundice—because it is so common

The injuries caused by untreated jaundice in a newborn can also result in permanent brain damage. When this occurs, the baby’s parents must provide extraordinary care and attention to their child over the rest of their lifetime. This may include special medical needs, special housing accommodations, special education requirements, and specific training needs. Furthermore, most parents wonder who will care for their child when they get older and can no longer attend to the needs of their child.

Stages of Kernicterus from Newborn Jaundice

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, kernicterus is caused specifically by high levels of bilirubin, which is a yellow pigment that is created in the body during the normal recycling of old red blood cells. However, kernicterus can lead to extreme illness, which is one of the primary reasons why diagnosing infant jaundice early is important for Michigan residents.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, these are signs parents should be looking out for to further prevent kernicterus in their newborn through an early, mid, and late stage.

Early stage:

  • Extreme jaundice
  • Absent startle reflex
  • Poor feeding or sucking
  • Extreme sleepiness—lethargy


  • High-pitched cry
  • Arched back with neck hyperextended backwards
  • Bulging fontanel—soft spot
  • Seizures

Late stage—full neurological syndrome:

  • High-frequency hearing loss
  • Mental impairment
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Speech difficulties
  • Seizures
  • Movement disorder

Treatment For Jaundiced Newborns

Babies with a high level of bilirubin—or jaundice—can be treated properly immediately after their birth. For example, phototherapy is an often highly effective method used for treatment. It is the blue color in the light that transforms the toxic form of bilirubin into a non-toxic, water-soluble form that is eliminated.

In situations when bilirubin reaches dangerous levels, extreme treatment method, known as exchange transfusion, may be used to remove the toxic bilirubin from the blood. Understanding how infant jaundice—and its most severe ramifications, such as kernicterus—are treated is essential for any Michigan expecting family.

How a Lawyer Can Help with a Claim for Infant Jaundice in Michigan

The failure to timely diagnose and treat a newborn with infant jaundice may be clear legal grounds for a malpractice lawsuit in Michigan. However, to prove this type of case, it must be established that the child was born with jaundice, that it was not timely diagnosed or treated, and that if it was properly treated, the newborn would not have suffered any serious injury or harm.

Because of the nuance and complexity of this process, it may prove beneficial to retain a seasoned lawyer for help. A knowledgeable Buckfire & Buckfire, P.C. attorney could explain your options for seeking recovery and guide you through the legal process of filing a claim. For more information, call today.

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