Newborns are susceptible to countless potential hazards during pregnancy and delivery, and it is the duty of the doctor, midwife, or presiding medical professional to ensure that no harm comes to the child. Erb’s palsy is a condition that affects one in every 500 newborns when they suffer an injury to their brachial plexus. This group of nerves extends from the spinal cord into the arms and hands.
Causes of Erb’s Palsy
Erb’s palsy is most likely to occur in deliveries during which the baby’s shoulders have trouble exiting the birth canal and become stuck (a condition known as shoulder dystocia). Basically, the nerves of the brachial plexus are overextended and are ruptured or severed. The resulting symptoms may include paralysis of the baby’s arm, reduced mobility in the arms or hands, and decreased sensation in the hands and fingers. Babies with Erb’s palsy often hold the damaged arm close to their body.
The presiding health care professional may cause Erb’s palsy in several ways:
- Excessive pressure to the baby’s head, shoulders, or neck during delivery
- Failure to properly address shoulder dystocia
- Failure to realize that the baby’s size demanded a cesarean section procedure
Doctors, midwives, and other health care professionals are expected to do no harm to their patients, and if they fail to do so during a delivery, they potentially damage the baby for the rest of their life and severely diminish their quality of life.
Luckily, babies with Erb’s palsy may recover over time. Parents will have to work actively to keep their joints functional and stimulate muscle growth with massages. The child needs daily physical therapy once they are about 3 weeks old. Surgical procedures may be necessary if there is little or no natural progress. Surgery may entail a nerve graft, during which another nerve is harvested from elsewhere in the child’s body to act as a donor to repair the ruptured nerves. A nerve transfer from other muscles may also restore range of motion. Even though the child may recover the use of the arm, it may take years to attain even partial mobility, and the affected arm will appear noticeably smaller than the healthy arm, as the nerves influence muscle growth.
Pursuing Legal Action for Erb’s Palsy
Any medical malpractice suit revolves around negligence. First, the victim’s parents must establish that there was in fact a patient/doctor relationship between them and the defendant. They must then prove negligence by establishing three facts:
- The defending health care professional was bound by a duty of care to inflict no harm on the baby and act with reasonable caution in executing their duties and safely delivering the baby.
- They breached this duty by some action, such as applying excessive pressure to the baby’s head, neck, or shoulders during delivery. A breach may also be deemed a result of inaction. An example of this would be the defendant had failed to recognize the need for a caesarean section for a larger-than-average baby.
- This breach of their duty of care directly resulted in their baby developing Erb’s palsy.
In any personal injury case, the victims may sue for damages, including medical expenses, the cost of subsequent medical treatments such as physical therapy or additional surgeries, as well as pain and suffering.
The law firm of Douglas, Haun & Heidemann has represented clients in the Springfield, Mo., region for more than 100 years, and we firmly believe that doctors and health care professionals need to provide their patients with consistent, thorough, and competent care. They also need to be held accountable for the injuries they cause with negligent actions. If your child developed Erb’s palsy as the result of negligent medical practices, reach out to our team of legal experts. We’ll review your case and explain the potential avenues for compensation you may be eligible to collect.