When an adult violently shakes a baby, bangs the baby against a hard object or some combination of both, the combined effects to the child in the aftermath of such an event is often described a shaken baby syndrome. As one can easily imagine, when shaken baby syndrome is suspected criminal charges often follow. Such criminal charges are often referred to as a shaken baby case, as a Decatur criminal lawyer can explain.
When a baby arrives at the hospital, it can sometimes be difficult to determine how the baby was injured especially if the parents or caregiver can offer no history that adequately explains the child’s injuries. I may be that the adult did not witness and truly does not know how the baby was injured. Another possibility is that the adult is trying to conceal his or her own actions or protect someone else (perhaps a boyfriend or spouse) by not giving the full story of how the baby was injured.
There are some common injuries in a shaken baby case. These are injuries that serve as red flags for hospital staff and law enforcement and tend to indicate that the baby may have suffered his or her injury at the hands of an adult caretaker.
Skull Fractures – A baby who shows up to the hospital with an unexplained skull fracture will virtually always trigger an investigation for shaken baby. It takes a great deal of force to fracture a baby’s skull. An adult holding the baby and slamming the baby’s head on a hard surface is one way the child could suffer a fractured skull. Simply rolling off a bed or changing table will often not generate enough force to fracture a child’s skull. It is important to note that a baby can be suffering from a skull fracture and have virtually no external signs of injury such as lacerations or bruising to the head.
Bruising – A baby suffering from shaken baby syndrome will sometimes have bruising or swelling on his or her head indicative of where impact was made with a solid object while the baby was being shaken. This external bruising does not always appear, even when the child has a severe skull fracture. Hospital personnel and investigators will also look for telltale bruising to the child’s arms and torso area. This type of bruising occurs in a shaken baby case when an adult holds on tightly to the baby while shaking it. The amount of force required to inflict significant injury on the baby such as a skull fracture often results in bruising to the areas of the child’s body where it was being grasped by the adult.
Hematomas, brain damage and brain swelling – When a baby is shaken violently, it can injure the baby’s brain to such an extent that there is a breakdown (either immediate or, in some cases, gradual) in the brain’s ability to maintain regular bodily functioning. The injury to the child brain can result in the loss of differentiation between white and grey matter. Such brain damage can manifest itself in the form of lack of oxygen to the brain and can at times be difficult to differentiate between an injury that resulted from shaking versus suffocation.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Andrew R. Lynch, P.C. for their insight into common injuries in a shaken baby case.