Shaken Baby Syndrome
A Strong Legal Defense from Our Lansing CPS Attorney
Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) is a term commonly used by Children’s Protective Services (CPS) workers, although doctors tend to use other terminology such as Abusive Head Trauma (AHT) and Non-Accidental Injury (NAI). If you have a child in the hospital for any type of injury and CPS is involved, you should immediate consult an attorney with a regular practice defending parents. Make no mistake about it, if CPS, police or a Child Abuse Pediatrician are questioning you, you are a suspect and need legal help.
SBS refers to particular head traumas in children. Historically, SBS required three medical findings: subdural hematomas, retinal hemorrhages and an actual brain injury. This combination was commonly referred to as the “triad.” Unfortunately, the various theories are constantly changing. Today, many doctors are advancing SBS type theories with only one or two of the original triad symptoms. Originally, the thinking was that if those conditions were present, doctors could testify that the child was abused. Thirty years of scientific research has significantly altered the landscape, but many doctors cling stubbornly to the old theories. Parents often pay the price for this.
Classic SBS testimony from a medical doctor would be that someone repeatedly shook the child back and forth, causing the child’s brain to slam against the skull. Eventually, a large amount of scientific inquiry debunked the theories supporting the SBS hysteria. This probably accounts for the ever changing medical/legal debate. Child Abuse pediatricians constantly look for new ways to support the shaking theories and scientists from various fields undermine the validity of their assertions. This makes the litigation of head injury cases dangerous grounds for parents caught up in the debate. No parent should go through this process without the help of a competent and experienced attorney who understands the intricate details of head injury litigation.
The Dangers of Hospital Interviews
With SBS type symptoms, doctors are looking for a particular explanation from parents. A parent who describes a minor fall or simply does not know what happened is presumed to be lying. All Child Abuse Pediatricians are trained to analyze the parents’ explanation carefully to see if it meets their belief as to the cause of injury. An explanation that doctors believe does not explain the medical condition will almost always lead to the filing of a Report of Actual or Suspected Child Abuse form (DHS-3200).
Depending on the hospital, a Child Abuse Pediatrician is either not practicing medicine, or is only marginally practicing medicine. Instead, they are engaged in a forensic medical examination. (Forensic means that their investigation is done for the legal system.) When this investigation is done by doctors rather than the police, the doctors don’t have to tell you that you are under investigation, that you have the right to an attorney or that you have the right to remain silent.
If you are being investigated by a forensic doctor, a hospital social worker, a nurse, a CPS worker or a police officer, you need to stop the discussion and consult with an attorney. This is why we give free emergency phone consultations.
The mainstream medical community has been very slow to accept changes in medicine and related sciences. There are plenty of doctors who will still testify based on 30-year-old views now largely discredited, such as:
- The false belief that children with subdural hematomas must have experienced forces equal to a high-speed automobile crash or a fall from a three-story window.
- The false belief that short distance falls cannot explain the three classic SBS symptoms.
- The false belief that you can generate enough force by shaking a child without injuring the child’s cervical spine.
- The false belief that parents should always be able to explain what happened when the injured child is an infant.
The truth is that children suffer significant head injuries from non-abusive events. Contributing causes and issues include:
- Accidental trauma
- Minor falls
- Systemic disorders
- Blood coagulation problems
- Birth injuries which go undetected for weeks or months
The Importance of Legal Representation
Virtually all parents try to be helpful when doctors are asking them questions concerning the health of a child. Doctors typically say something like, “Can you think of anything that might have caused these injuries?” Parents usually respond by trying to think of something.
Here are some examples a parent explanations that we have heard in our cases:
- “Maybe I burped him too hard.”
- “Maybe I bumped her head on something and did not realize it.”
- “Maybe my older child did something that I don’t know about.”
- “Maybe I squeezed her too tight when I hugged her.”
- “Maybe I didn’t support his head enough.”
All of these explanations (and many more) amount to mere speculation or guesses. All of these explanations (and many more) were rejected by the medical doctors, deemed evidence of lying by the parent and considered a “red flag” for abuse. An experienced attorney, consulted early, can help parents avoid many of the pitfalls of a medical-legal investigation.
Police records and news stories are full of parents who, under pressure, confessed to hurting their child. The records rarely show the many sleepless hours in the hospital, the repeated questioning by doctors, nurses and social workers in the hospital, the intense questioning by CPS and the intimidating effects of armed police investigators.
Do not put yourself in that position. Make sure that you never speak to CPS workers or police without an experienced Michigan CPS lawyer by your side. Some people think asking for a lawyer is an admission of guilt, but it is not. It is protecting you from having your words twisted, having CPS intimidate you, having the police bully you into saying something that you will have difficulty explaining later.
What follows are common points that we stress with our clients, although a word of caution is warranted. We are not advising you about how to handle your situation. Some of this may apply to you and some may not, depending on the facts of your case. We don’t recommend that you get your advice on the internet.
Again, that is why we offer free, prompt consultations. Having said that, we routinely tell parents:
- Don’t ever speculate or guess about what caused an injury
- Don’t ever face a CPS investigation without an attorney
- Don’t ever face a police investigation without an attorney
- Don’t ever agree to an interview by a Child Abuse Pediatrician without first consulting with a child abuse defense attorney.
- Don’t agree to be separated from the other parent for interviews without first consulting with an attorney.
- Don’t argue with doctors and nurses in the hospital. Show appropriate concern and be respectful.
- As soon as you understand that you are under investigation, make the call. An attorney can help deal with any mistakes you may have made so far, but let’s not make any mistakes going forward.
- Understand that if CPS is at the hospital, someone is under investigation. This is serious.
- Don’t go it alone.
You do not have to face this critical time without a proven legal representative in your corner. Call our offices today at (517) 325-0441 to start exploring your legal options.