Have you ever heard of Erb’s palsy? It’s not a particularly well-known birth injury, even though it affects approximately two out of every 1,000 babies born in the United States each year. In some cases, this injury occurs randomly due to the baby’s position in the womb or because the baby’s shoulders become lodged in the birth canal.
However, many times the injury that leads to Erb’s palsy is entirely preventable. If your infant suffers this injury, the medical professionals who were involved in the birth might be to blame. That means you might be entitled to compensation. Read on to learn more about the legal ramifications of birth injuries.
First, a Definition of Erb’s Palsy
Erb’s palsy is the most common form of brachial plexus injuries. These injuries commonly occur during a vaginal birth as a result of forceful pulling or tugging on the baby’s arm. In a brachial plexus injury, the nerves that run through the shoulder to control the arm and hand are bruised, stretched, or torn. This leads to weakness, immobility, and improper development.
Some cases of Erb’s palsy are relatively minor; if the nerve is just bruised or stretched, the injury will generally resolve itself within a few months. Kids are very resilient, after all! In other cases, physical therapy can help the baby’s muscles develop and become stronger. After a few months of this therapy, normal development is achieved and there may be no further issues.
Severe Cases of Erb’s Palsy
When the injury is more severe, however, it may be necessary for the baby to undergo one or more surgeries. And even surgical intervention is no guarantee of a successful outcome. Some children with Erb’s palsy never make a full recovery, despite several operations to repair the damaged nerves. Their arm and hand remain weak or even paralyzed, affecting the quality of their day-to-day life even as they grow into childhood, their teen years, and adulthood.
When Negligence Results in a Birth Injury
There are a lot of variables at play when a woman is in labor. Nevertheless, when an expectant mother seeks treatment from an obstetrician or any other medical professional, those professionals owe her a duty of care. Should they fail to meet that duty, negligence can result.
When it comes to birth injuries like Erb’s palsy, there are several medical errors that might be to blame, including:
- The doctor pulling, tugging or yanking on the baby’s arm in order to facilitate birth
- The improper use of tools meant to assist with a difficult birth, such as forceps or a vacuum extraction tool
- Failure to adequately monitor and address signs of fetal distress
- Failure to plan and carry out an emergency Caesarian section
“It isn’t always easy for parents to understand when a physician’s actions — or lack of actions — have been negligent in nature,” explains Ohio birth injury attorney John A. Lancione. “That’s why our firm works with experienced doctors who can assess cases and help make sense of what happened in the delivery room.”
Understanding the Damages Involved in Birth Injury
When a child incurs a birth injury, it places an enormous emotional and financial burden on the parents. If one of the medical professionals involved in the birth is found to have been negligent, the parents of an Erb’s palsy patient are often entitled to economic and non-economic damages. They can be compensated for expenses such as:
- Medical appointments to assess and treat the child’s injury
- Specialist consultations
- The cost of surgeries and hospital inpatient stays for the child
- Physical and occupational therapy, either in place of surgery or to augment it
- The loss of parental income due to medical care of the infant
The parents may also receive compensation for non-economic damages such as emotional and physical pain and suffering. Some states put caps on the amounts of money that can be recovered for this type of damage, while others do not.
Not Sure If You Have a Case? Consult with an Attorney
Each child is unique, and so are the circumstances surrounding his or her birth. It is difficult to advise parents regarding legal recourse without understanding the specific situation, so if your child has suffered a brachial plexus injury during delivery, consult with an attorney.
An initial consultation won’t cost you any money, and there’s no obligation to file a lawsuit. It’s simply an opportunity to have your questions answered, have your case evaluated, and have your curiosity satisfied as to whether or not your family deserves justice.