Last week saw Disorders of the Corpus Callosum Awareness Day, an annual event on 2 July to raise awareness of these relatively unknown congenital conditions.

What is the Corpus Callosum and why is it important?

The corpus callosum is a structure which connects the two hemispheres of the brain. On rare occasions it does not form correctly during fetal development, which can lead to “agenesis” or “dysgenesis” of the corpus callosum (the absence of some or all of the corpus callosum). This may occur in isolation or with other congenital abnormalities such as a Chiari malformation (in which part of the brain extends into the spinal canal) or holoproscencephaly (in which the brain does not properly divide).

Structural abnormalities in the fetal brain may be detected during antenatal tests, such as the fetal anomaly ultrasound scan at around 20 weeks of pregnancy. In some cases, further investigations, such as a fetal MRI scan, are required. Once an abnormality is diagnosed, parents are faced with the option of whether or not to continue with the pregnancy.

Medical advice regarding the prognosis for the child and likelihood of them having developmental problems or disability can help to inform this decision.

The way in which a disorder of the corpus callosum will present in an individual is described as extremely variable, with some children experiencing problems such as developmental delay, seizures and/or learning difficulties. However, the type and severity of problems differs widely and specialist medical advice is always required where an abnormality is suspected.

Advice for parents regarding bringing a claim relating to congenital abnormalities

For clinical negligence solicitors, disorders of the corpus callosum and other congenital abnormalities are often encountered in cases where there has been a failure of antenatal care; for example, a negligent failure to identify an abnormality during an ultrasound or other test, or a failure to do the test itself.

A claim for failure to diagnose a fetal abnormality is usually brought by the parent(s) and not the child. This means that the ‘limitation period’ (the time limit for bringing a claim) will usually be 3 years from either the date of the negligence or the parent(s) ‘date of knowledge’. To avoid missing the deadline, parents considering bringing a claim of this type should obtain specialist legal advice as soon as possible.

Typically we investigate a claim by obtaining evidence on whether the antenatal care fell below the acceptable standard (breach of duty) and the likely course of events if an acceptable level of care had been provided (causation); in particular, consideration is given to whether or not the pregnancy would have been terminated.

A successful claim often allows parents to obtain substantial damages to meet their child’s additional needs.