As discussed more generally in the Childbirth Injuries section, the birth of a child is a wonderful yet fraught time in any parent’s life. While medical advances have made childbirth exponentially safer than it was even 100 years ago, one type of birth injury is still quite common: brachial plexus injuries. [1]

The brachial plexus is a root bundle of nerves in the shoulder region of the arm that empowers movement and sensation in the arm, hand, and fingers. It starts at the spine and then branches out to various parts of the arm, controlling all sensory and motor function. Brachial plexus injuries typically occur when the baby is positioned in such a way that its shoulders are obstructed and cannot breach smoothly. This condition is referred to as “shoulder dystocia.” In those situations, it is up to the doctor to either consider an alternative to vaginal birth (e.g. Cesarean section) or to maneuver the baby’s position such that it can be born safely and without injury. Unfortunately, doctors sometimes use far too much force when moving and pulling the child’s shoulders and/or arms (especially given how fragile newborns are), which can bruise, tear, or even completely sever the brachial plexus. When the upper trunk C5-C6 nerves are severed, this is referred to as Erb’s palsy.

The result is partial or even complete paralysis of the arm. Fortunately, the condition can often be fixed via surgical intervention or physical therapy, depending on the severity of the injury. Infants who suffered from Erb’s palsy have gone on to play in the NFL (Adrian Clayborn) and be Hollywood stars (Martin Sheen). However, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 5-10% of infants that suffer a brachial plexus injury during birth will experience permanent functional disability. [2]

Some signs and symptoms to be aware of in your newborn include: limp and useless arm and hand; arm pain; numbness; lack of response to heat or cold; and a lack of touch sensation. If your newborn child is exhibiting any or all of these symptoms, please do not hesitate in seeking medical advice – babies are resilient, and the sooner the problem is addressed, the better the potential for a full recovery.

However, these injuries are almost always preventable. Doctors are expected to recognize shoulder dystocia and either maneuver the child without causing injury, or change course and pursue an alternate delivery method (generally a C-section). Not to do so results in great pain and suffering to both the parent and the child, as well as the potential for a lifetime of physical difficulty. Therefore, if your child has been diagnosed with a brachial plexus injury and/or Erb’s palsy, we invite you to call Campbell & Associates at 716-992-2222 for a free consultation.

Example Verdicts and Settlements for Brachial Plexus/Erb’s Palsy

N.W., Pro Ami v. Clements, M.D.; Clark, Clements and Syeda, M.D. P.C. (2016 WL 4773203) – Newborn infant’s representatives claimed she suffered right Erb’s palsy, a right brachial plexus injury, and other injuries as a result of shoulder dystocia. They sued the Defendant gynecologist and his practice under a variety of theories, including: negligent delivery and application of excessive force to the right arm and shoulder; failing to perform appropriate maneuvers to deliver her; failing to timely recognize and address the increased risk of Erb’s palsy, given the babies fetal weight; and failing to discuss a Cesarean section as an alternative. The Defendants denied liability, but ultimately agreed to a structured settlement in the amount of $2,000,000.00.

Fisch, Pro Ami v. Wind, M.D. (NY St. Ct. 2008) – A female infant suffered a brachial plexus injury during her child birth. The infant Plaintiff (via her parents) contended that the Defendant gynecologist failed to exercise the skill and knowledge necessary to perform the delivery, that he used excessive force during the delivery, and that he failed to provide the proper standard of care. The Defendant denied liability, but the parties ultimately agreed to a pre-trial settlement of $1,950,000.00.

Kwabena v. Defendant (1995 WL 259593) – A newborn infant suffered brachial plexus injury and Erb’s palsy when abundant traction (force) was used by the Defendant intern during childbirth. The plaintiff, through his mother, contended that the Defendant intern was negligent and that the Defendant hospital negligently failed to have a staff obstetrician available. The Defendants denied that excessive force was used, and claimed that the infant was examined and found to be in normal condition following delivery. They further contended that the infant Plaintiff’s condition was caused by a congenital irregularity. The jury found for Plaintiff in the amount of $1,000,000.00 (just over $1.5 million, adjusted for inflation). [3]

1 – Brachial Plexus Injury: A Survey of 100 Consecutive Cases from a Single Service, Neurosurgery, Vol. 51, Issue 3, 1 September 2002, Pages 673-683.
2 – https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/brachial-plexus-injuries/
3 – https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

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