When a baby is removed from the birth canal via excessive force, an injury to the nerves in the baby’s shoulder may occur. This can result in a condition known as Erb’s palsy, which may lead to permanent impairment.
What is Erb’s Palsy?
Named for Wilhelm Erb, who first described the condition, Erb’s palsy is a type of brachial plexus injury. The brachial plexus is the collection of nerves in the upper shoulder, near the neck, that is responsible for controlling the arm's motion. When a brachial plexus injury occurs, sensation in the arm, as well as motor ability, may be impaired, and weakness of the arm may result. When only the upper nerves are affected, the condition is called Erb’s palsy. Usually, this is characterized by an infant’s inability to move the shoulder, although sensation and movement in the lower arm, wrist and fingers is still possible.
Causes of a Brachial Plexus Injury
Brachial plexus injuries are usually caused during a baby’s difficult birth, and are considered birthing injuries. Usually, shoulder dystocia is the first contributing factor of a brachial plexus -- and Erb’s palsy -- injury. Shoulder dystocia occurs when the baby’s shoulders become wedged between the mother’s pelvic bones when exiting the birth canal. To remedy this, an obstetrician may use forceps, a vacuum extractor or the manual force of their hands to remove the baby from behind the mother’s pelvic bones. In doing so, the baby’s shoulder, head and arms are often twisted or pulled in an unnatural and forceful fashion. Pulling excessively on the shoulders is the most common cause of Erb’s Palsy.
The larger size of the fetus and shoulder dystocia are the two biggest risk factors for Erb’s palsy. A baby being in the breech position also can be a risk factor. When an obstetrician (or other healthcare professional) uses unnecessary force to free a baby from the birthing canal, thereby causing a brachial plexus injury, the healthcare provider may be held liable for the damages.
Treatment for an Erb’s Palsy Injury
According to "Erb’s palsy -- Who is to blame and what will happen?" published by Charter, P. Camfield, and C. Camfield in the Journal of Paediatrics & Child Health in 2004 states that the rate of complete recovery for an Erb’s palsy injury is 80 to 96 percent, particularly if improvement in the injury begins in the first two weeks. For infants that have shown no signs of recovery in the first five to six months following the injury, surgical intervention may be required. According to the publication, permanent, significant disability is rare. If medical intervention is required or permanent disability results, the parents of the child have the right to file a claim for damages on the child’s behalf.
How do I know who should be held liable for my baby’s injury?
When it comes to the liability of medical professionals, a medical professional cannot be held liable unless the injury in question was a result of negligence. Negligence, then, means that the healthcare professional did something that another healthcare professional in the same situation would not have done, and therefore can be considered irresponsible or unreasonable. You can prove negligence in a civil suit using witness testimony (from other professionals present at the time), expert testimony (from other physicians), medical evidence, and more. A claim for damages for an Erb’s palsy injury must be filed within two years in Pennsylvania under Pa. Cons. Stat. Sec. 5524.
Contact an Attorney to File an Erb’s Palsy Claim Today
When negligence during childbirth occurs, resulting in Erb’s palsy or another type of birth injury, legal action needs to be taken. At Cordisco & Saile LLC, we can explain all you need to know about gaining compensation for an injury suffered by your child. If you’re ready to sit down with us to discuss your claim today, call 215-642-2335.