A doctor must meet an expected standard of care each time he cares for a patient, which includes making good decisions during a complex birth. If the doctor who delivered your child used excessive force or pulled the baby from the birth canal by an arm extended above the baby’s head, damage to the child’s nerves can result in Erb’s palsy. This may result in full or partial paralysis on the arm. It’s important to understand this condition, how you can identify it, and how a lawyer can help determine if you have a birth injury lawsuit.
Understanding Erb’s Palsy
Also known as Erb’s paralysis or Duchenne Erb palsy, Erb’s palsy is a condition resulting from injury to a newborn’s upper brachial plexus nerves that control the shoulder and arm. This injury occurs when:
- The nerves are totally severed from the spine
- The nerves are torn at an area not connected to the spine
- The nerves are overstretched
- The nerves were injured but did not heal properly
This type of birth injury usually occurs during a vaginal delivery, and it could be the result of a doctor’s negligence. Common symptoms of this injury include:
- Lack of movement of weakness in arm
- Loss of normal reflexes, startle reflex should be symmetrical
- Awkward positioning of affected arm, extended downward and rotated to the side
- Diminished sensation or function in the arm, or total paralysis
- Poor grip strenth
- Excessive pain
Although not every birth injury is caused by a doctor’s negligence, it’s possible your baby’s Erb’s palsy was preventable. A delivery becomes more complicated and difficult if:
- The baby is large
- The baby has a large head
- The mother has a small pelvis
- The doctor uses a vacuum or forceps to deliver the baby
- The mother is short in stature
- The mother had gestational diabetes
- The delivery results in shoulder dystocia (where the baby's shoulder gets stuck in the pelvis)
These scenarios may lead a doctor to use more force when helping the baby exit the birth canal and pull too hard or pull on the baby’s arm, which is often extended over the baby’s head. This extra force can lead to injuries resulting in Erb’s palsy.
Effects of Erb’s Palsy Could Last a Lifetime
Determining whether you have a potential birth injury lawsuit is important because the effects of an injury leading to Erb’s palsy could last the rest of your child’s life. Many injuries to the brachial plexus will heal spontaneously with no complications. However, other injuries may lead to long-lasting or permanent consequences—which means your baby could need continued medical attention. Common complications associated with Erb’s palsy include:
- Pain. It’s not uncommon that nerve damage results in pain. This may be connected to how the nerves heal and if any scar tissue exists.
- Stiffness. Because the pain limits mobility during the healing process, it’s possible joints and muscles will become stiff and difficult to move, or they may even stay rigid after the injury is healed.
- Permanent disability. The nerves in the brachial plexus could heal improperly, failing to restore connectivity with the brain and losing functionality entirely.
- Loss of feeling. It’s possible that scar tissue or improper healing will result in loss of feeling in the arm.
- Atrophy. Nerves can take a while to heal, and it’s important to keep in mind that some nerves must regrow. As this happens, your baby’s muscle might atrophy—which could mean muscle deterioration or prolonged weakness.
During childbirth, if a baby’s nerves were simply stretched, the injury typically heals more easily. If the baby’s nerves were torn, the injury may be improved by engaging in prescribed physical therapy to keep the joint active and get blood flowing to the area. Additionally, a doctor may recommend surgery to remove scar tissue if he believes the injury isn’t healing as well as it needs to.
Your Baby Deserves Quality Representation
If your baby suffered injuries during delivery, you should speak with a birth injury attorney. The legal team at The Holton Law Firm can review your case, help determine if you have a birth injury case, and provide superior representation, if necessary. To get started on your case, contact a team member today by calling our toll-free phone number.