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Shaken Baby

Shaken baby/shaken impact syndrome (or SBS) is a head trauma that occurs, as the name suggests, when a baby is shaken forcibly enough to cause extreme contrecoup injury. This causes injury to blood vessels, causing bleeding in the brain. Between 1,200 and 1,400 children in the United States sustain head injuries from abuse every year. The injuries from shaking a baby range from minor to death. Most of them are infants less than one year old. It’s just awful.

The injuries from shaken baby syndrome are largely invisible.  You may see lacerations or bruises.  But you also may see no external marks on the baby.   An MRI or CT scan will show the bleeding. An MRI or CT scan may show intracranial hemorrhages.  An ophthalmologic examination of the retinas for hemorrhages and a skeletal survey to identify recent, old, or healing fractures,  especially rib fractures.

More often than not, the perpetrator is the child’s parent which means there is rarely a potential lawsuit and the only attorney involved is the one representing the criminal defendant.

How Does the Injury Occur?

Shaken baby syndrome is caused by an acceleration/deceleration force combined with rotational force.  The head is very large in proportion to the rest of the baby’s body. The weakness of neck muscles in a young infant, the lack of myelin enveloping axons,  and the vulnerability of the bridging veins that are also larger in infants than adults all lead to a grave risk of a closed head injury when the child is shaken.

So when a baby is shaken, the child is usually shaken from front to back. The injury that occurs to the brain is actually a rotational injury.  The impact to the baby’s brain is a translational injury in which actually goes through the outside of the brain, outside of the skull, goes into the skull and that energy is imparted to the substance of the brain and the vessels.

Defendants in Shaken Baby Cases

Shaken baby lawsuits are typically brought against babysitters, who may be covered by homeowners insurance, daycare workers, and even healthcare providers. In some of these cases, the defendants cannot be convicted criminally beyond a reasonable doubt but might have exposure in a civil lawsuit.

Remember, we are talking in this context about civil lawsuits.  The burden of proof in these cases is not intent.  It is whether the shaking of the child resulted in an injury or death.

You rarely see legal cases against individuals because of the difficulty in collecting a judgment.  This is why the defendants in these cases are usually daycare providers.

Do you need a witness to the incident to file a lawsuit?  No.  In the absence of a witness or a confession, the diagnosis of “shaken baby syndrome” can often be made by retracing the child’s steps and looking at the clinical, radiological, and pathological findings.

Getting a Lawyer

If you know or suspect your child has suffered a serious injury from shaken baby syndrome, we will discuss your case with you and let you know whether we believe there is a potential claim/lawsuit. Call 800-553-8082 or get a free online consultation.

Shaken Baby Literature

  • Duhaime AC, et. al: The Shaken baby syndrome. A clinical, pathological, and biomechanical study. J. Neurosurg 66(3):409-15, 1987.
  • Lazoritz S, Baldwin S and Kini N. The Whiplash Shaken Infant Syndrome: has Caffey’s syndrome changed or have we changed his syndrome? Child Abuse Negl. 21(10): 1009-14, 1997.
  • Lancon JA, Haines DE, and Parent AD. Anatomy of the shaken baby syndrome. Anat Rec 253(1):13-18, 1998.
  • Duhaime AC, Christian CAW, Rorke LB, and Zimmerman RA. Nonaccidental head injuries in infants: the “Shaken baby syndrome.” N Engl J Med 338:1822-4, 1998
  • David TJ: Shaken baby (shaken impact) syndrome: non-accidental head injury in infancy. J Roy Soc Med 92:556-561, 1999.
  • Donohoe M: Evidence-based medicine and shaken baby syndrome.  Amer J Foren Med Pathol 29:239-242, 2003.

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