Erb’s Palsy Lawyer

Named for its original documenter, Dr. Wilhelm Erb, Erb’s palsy is a condition caused by damage to a baby’s upper brachial plexus nerves during delivery, leading to partial or full paralysis of the arm. In severe cases, the upper and lower nerves are both damaged, leading to a worse condition known as global brachial plexus birth palsy.

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Erb’s palsy can dramatically impact not only someone’s birth and formative years, but also their entire life. According to the American Association of Neuromuscular & Electrodiagnostic Medicine, obstetric brachial plexus injury or Erb’s palsy occurs in between 0.5 and 2.6 full-term live births per 1,000. Of those, 20% to 25% of patients who did not undergo surgical intervention have reported significant impairment in later life. Even so, surgery and physical therapy may not completely treat some cases.

Though this condition has many potential causes, Erb’s palsy can result from medical malpractice during birth. If your child suffers from this condition because of a medical professional’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for the expenses you’ve incurred and the undue strain on your child.

What causes Erb’s palsy?

Erb’s palsy occurs when the baby’s brachial plexus nerve (the nerve which controls their arm, hand, and fingers) becomes excessively stretched, ruptured, or avulsed during childbirth. Various circumstances and contributing factors before or during birth can increase the risk of Erb’s palsy. However, many times the debilitating condition is the result of medical malpractice at the time of delivery during a shoulder dystocia.

A shoulder dystocia occurs when a baby’s shoulder gets stuck behind the mother’s pelvic bone. It is an obstetrical event that requires immediate intervention by the obstetrical team to safely dislodge the shoulder and safely deliver the baby.

Certain factors may increase the risk of encountering a shoulder dystocia:

  • Gestational Diabetes. Diabetes or high blood sugar that develops during pregnancy in mothers not already diagnosed with the condition.
  • Cephalopelvic disproportion. The baby is too large for the maternal pelvis.
  • Breech delivery. Doctors should be able to notice babies laying “sideways” in the womb early enough to deliver them via c-section. Failure to intervene can lead to Erb’s palsy and more serious injuries like brain damage or oxygen deprivation from a tangled umbilical cord.
  • Shoulder dystocia. Pulling a baby’s body to free their shoulder from behind the mother’s pubic bone puts pressure on the child’s neck. This can damage the brachial plexus.
  • Injury during forceps delivery or vacuum extraction. Medical practitioners sometimes use tools such as forceps or vacuum extractors to aid with delivery. Incorrect use of these tools can lead to injuries like Erb’s palsy.
  • Excessive pulling. Sometimes a doctor will pull excessively on the baby’s arms to remove them from the birth canal. This can put intense pressure on the infant’s body, damaging the brachial plexus nerve.

Other Risk Factors

Certain factors may increase the likelihood of Erb’s palsy. A mother with obesity or a heavier than average baby increases the chance of developing the condition. Other risk factors include:

  • Maternal diabetes
  • Prolonged labor during the second stage
  • Post-term birth
  • Advanced maternal age

Also, midpelvic operative vaginal delivery carries a greater risk for birth injuries, including Erb’s palsy, than a Cesarean section.

What are the signs and symptoms of Erb’s palsy?

Some of the most common symptoms of Erb’s palsy include:

  • Lack of movement in the shoulder or arm: This is the most apparent symptom and one of the most common. Erb’s palsy involves damage to the nerves which control the arm. If your baby’s arm is not moving or is moving minimally, it could be due to this nerve damage.
  • Weak reflexes in the arm: Even if the damage doesn’t keep the affected arm from moving, Erb’s palsy can still hinder reflexes on that side.
  • Lack of feeling in the arm: The brachial plexus nerves also allow the arm to feel things. Damage to these nerves can decrease sensation in the affected arm.
  • Abnormal arm position: An infant with damaged brachial plexus nerves will often position its arm differently from one with functioning nerves. The arm position looks like it would be uncomfortable to an infant with working nerves. Most often, the arm bends at the elbow toward the body.

How do practitioners diagnose Erb’s palsy?

If you notice symptoms of Erb’s palsy in your baby, seek a doctor’s opinion. They will likely perform a physical examination and various tests, including:

  • An x-ray, ultrasound, or MRI: These imaging tests detect damage to bones and joints that may indicate Erb’s palsy.
  • Electromyogram (EMG): This test measures nerve sensitivity to stimuli. A doctor inserts small electrodes into the muscle. These electrodes relay information about nerve response to a monitor, detecting any nerve damage.
  • Nerve conduction study (NCS): During this test, electrode patches send an electrical signal to the nerve. These patches measure nerve activity, noting how fast they function.

Is Erb’s palsy curable?

Damage in mild cases might heal with time, provided there is no additional strain on the area. Physical therapy is the primary treatment in many cases. Physical therapists use a combination of massage, sensory stimulation, stretching, and exercise to help your baby gain strength and coordination in the affected areas.

In more severe cases, your doctor may recommend surgical intervention. The most common procedures are:

  • Nerve decompression: This operation reduces pressure on the nerve, allowing it to (hopefully) continue healing by itself.
  • Nerve graft: During this procedure, doctors take healthy nerves from another part of the body and transfer them to the affected area, allowing the damaged nerve to regrow.

These operations can be long and complex, and doctors will most likely prescribe physical therapy as part of the healing process.

Can I receive compensation for my child’s Erb’s palsy?

Any medical expense stemming from medical staff malpractice or negligence is excessive. These extra costs can place a significant burden on financially struggling families. Courts understand that if your child is suffering and expenses are compounding because of someone else’s actions, the liable party should be held responsible.

After a successful Erb’s palsy case, courts will often award compensation for:

  • Medical expenses
  • Therapy costs
  • Lost wages
  • Emotional damages and pain and suffering

The exact amount awarded for each of these will vary greatly from case to case. Each case’s unique circumstances, different laws among jurisdictions, and other variables make it difficult to estimate precise amounts of compensation. However, once you speak to an Erb’s palsy attorney and they understand the details of your case, they may be able to provide you with more information regarding a fair settlement amount for your child’s birth injury and related losses.

$1.35 Million

Settlement

for a newborn who suffered severe and permanent brachial plexus injuries during delivery as a result of the defendant’s failure to perform the proper disimpaction techniques. As a result, she suffered from Erb’s Palsy and requires ongoing physical and occupational therapy.

Who’s liable for Erb’s palsy injuries?

If your child’s injury stems from malpractice, the medical team or hospital that caused the damage may be found liable by the courts.

The doctor’s job is to be on the lookout for risk factors that increase the likelihood of shoulder dystocia, inform the parents of the risks, and provide them with the appropriate risks and benefits of the treatment options. The failure to appreciate the risks and disclose them to the patient is not only negligent, but can place the baby at increased risk of brachial plexus injury by failing to have the team adequately prepared to manage a shoulder dystocia. 

How do I start the process of compensation?

If you believe medical malpractice contributed to your child’s Erb’s palsy diagnosis, contact a birth injury lawyer to evaluate your claim. Your lawyer can analyze the situation and determine if you have a case. Because statutes of limitations restrict how long you have to file your claim, you should contact a lawyer as soon as you suspect something might be wrong.

How can an Erb’s palsy lawyer help me?

An Erb’s palsy lawyer at Levin & Perconti can help you understand if your child’s injury was the result of medical malpractice. If it was, they can help you decide what legal action to take and guide you through the legal process. Our team will gather the evidence needed to prove your case so that you can receive compensation for your child’s medical expenses.

We have successfully litigated many seven-figure cases for our clients. Here are some examples of birth injury cases we’ve won, helping suffering families receive maximum compensation for their child’s injuries:

  • $20 million verdict for a child who suffered a brain injury due to the negligence of nurses and residents during labor.
  • $16 million settlement for a child who suffered a brain injury due to negligent nursing and medical care during labor and cesarean section.
  • $14 million verdict for a child who suffered a brain injury due to lack of oxygen during birth.
  • $11.5 million settlement for a child with hypoxic-ischemic brain injury.
  • $9 million settlement for a baby who suffered permanent brain damage as a result of a doctor’s failure to test the mother for Group B Strep Meningitis during prenatal care.

To determine if you’re eligible to file an Erb’s palsy case, contact our office as soon as possible for a free consultation.

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