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Brachial Plexus Injury & Erb’s Palsy

baby faceErb’s palsy is a condition resulting from injury to the brachial plexus nerves. The nerve damage causes symptoms including impaired mobility and loss of sensation in the shoulder, hand and arm. Named after Dr. William Erb, who was the first physician to describe the condition, Erb’s palsy typically occurs in infants and, unfortunately, may sometimes be attributed to mistakes that are made during labor and delivery. If medical malpractice contributed to your child’s injury, the attorneys at The Sanders Firm can help you determine if filing an Erb’s palsy lawsuit is the appropriate course of action.

Understanding the causes of Erb’s palsy

The brachial plexus is a nerve network near the top of the spinal cord through which the brain communicates with the shoulder, arm and hand. If the 5th through the 7th cervical nerve roots including the upper and middle plexus trunks are damaged, Erb’s palsy can result. Approximately 75 percent of all injuries to the brachial plexus nerve network that occur during childbirth affect these nerve roots.

Damage to the brachial plexus nerve network can occur as a result of:

  • Aggressive use of forceps or vacuum suction during labor
  • Excess pressure on the baby’s elevated arms during a breech delivery
  • Excessive pressure on the infant’s shoulders
  • Extensive twisting or pulling of the infant’s head or neck during delivery
  • Turning the infant’s neck too sharply from side to side during a vaginal childbirth

Erb’s palsy is more common in larger babies; when a mother has gestational diabetes; or when shoulder dystocia occurs during delivery. Shoulder dystocia means that a child’s head is delivered and the shoulders and body become lodged behind the mother’s pubic bone, trapping the child in the birth canal.

Healthcare providers may be to blame for Erb’s palsy

Erb’s palsy can result from mistakes made by delivery room staff. Doctors should be aware of the risks of Erb’s palsy and exercise reasonable care in extracting a child, especially when using the forceps and vacuum. Physicians also need to be aware of the risk factors for shoulder dystocia and react promptly with proper maneuvers to remove the baby from the birth canal without damaging its delicate brachial plexus nerves.

If a physician’s care falls short during labor and the doctor makes mistakes no competent health care professional with his or her background would have made, he or she may be liable for malpractice. Victims of Erb’s palsy and their families are encouraged to seek advice from a New York birth injury lawyer as to the viability of a medical malpractice claim.

Often, NY hospitals are also held accountable in Erb’s palsy cases. This is because hospitals are responsible for the actions of their full-time employees and because they may also be held liable for negligence if they fail to follow industry standards and best practices for safe deliveries.

Consequences of a brachial plexus injury

Compensation recovered through a New York birth injury lawsuit is meant to cover all financial and non-economic losses that the infant and family will accrue over the course of the child’s lifetime. While infants may sometimes regain full mobility as the brachial plexus nerves heal, around 20 percent of all brachial plexus injuries are permanent.

The specific consequences a child will experience will vary depending upon the extent of the nerve damage.

An infant who sustains damage to the brachial plexus that results in Erb’s palsy may suffer:

  • Avulsion: The nerves are completely pulled from the spinal cord and a child will not recover mobility without advanced treatments such as nerve grafting or nerve transfer.
  • Rupture: The nerves are stretched or partly torn but remain attached to the spinal cord. Recovery is likely.
  • Axonotemesis: The nerve endings are severed, resulting in the child having a moderate chance of recovery. Treatment including nerve grafting may be necessary to restore mobility.
  • Neurotemesis: The entire brachial plexus nerve is divided, resulting in a limited chance of recovery.
  • Neuroma: Divided nerve endings, called axons, do not generate correctly and a tumor forms.

Often, even in cases where a child has a good chance of recovery, physical therapy is typically needed to prevent muscle atrophy and other complications.  The costs of ongoing treatment can be very high for families.

When surgery is necessary, between 40 to 80 percent of patients experience improvement, but the costs are exponentially higher. An Erb’s palsy lawyer will work to ensure that families  secure the money needed to give their children the best chance at a full recovery.

Obtaining compensation for birth injuries 

Families can seek compensation for Erb’s palsy through an out-of-court settlement or by taking a  medical malpractice lawsuit to trial.  Data from the Physician Insurers Association of America indicates that almost 60 percent of cases arising from brachial plexus injuries result in the victims receiving monetary compensation worth an average of $301,000.

It is up to the victims and their legal counsel to prove both that the physician was responsible for the brachial plexus injury and to prove the extent of damage and loss. Serving residents of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island, and Long Island, The Sanders Firm can provide assistance to families in obtaining evidence and making a strong claim. Call toll-free today at 1-800-FAIR PLAY to schedule a free case evaluation and learn more about how we can help families and children affected by an Erb’s palsy diagnosis.

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