Shaken Baby Syndrome Law and Legal Definition

Shaken baby syndrome (SBS) is a form of child abuse in which an abuser violently shakes an infant or small child. This causes the brain to move inside the skull, causing bruising of the brain and tearing of blood vessels. The shaking may result in bleeding in the eyes, bleeding around the brain, neck and spinal injuries, and rib fractures. In some cases, there is no visible external evidence of the trauma. Shaken baby syndrome may be defined as the trauma to the brain of a baby after consecutive shaking that result in significant neurological devastation [People v. Keung Han Kim, 2008 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1462 (California Unpublished Opinions 2008)]. Generally, infants below the age of one are the victims of SSB. In the U.S., yearly, around 1200 to 1600 children show signs of SSB.

SBS is very fatal and may result in the death of the infant or lifelong deformities to the infant. Legal action may be taken against an abuser. In many cases, the abuser does not shake the baby with the intention to cause any harm to the infant. The infant may be shaken in anger, to get a child stop crying. Infants have very weak neck muscles. Their head is heavy and large when compared to their body. Additionally, an infant’s brain is also immature and is in the growing stage. Violent shaking can cause whiplash type motion that causes acceleration-deceleration injuries. Therefore, although an abuser does not have an intention to inflict any harm upon the infant, violent shaking may cause harm to the infant.

Shaken baby syndrome is most likely a result of child abuse, often caused by a parent or caretaker who shakes an infant angrily in response to persistent crying. However, in rare cases, the injuries associated with shaken baby syndrome may be caused by accidental actions, such as jogging with a newborn baby in a backpack.

The following is an example of a case law defining the term.

"Shaken baby syndrome" was defined as "a constellation of abnormalities that occur in infants after they have been vigorously shaken," including retinal hemorrhages, brain injury, brain swelling and subdural hematomas [Rachelle S. v. Arizona Dep't of Econ. Sec., 191 Ariz. 518, 519 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1998)].