Erb's palsy, a type of brachial plexus palsy, is when the nerves in the shoulder and arm are affected, usually by an injury. It can happen during difficult births or when a doctor's actions during the birthing process are negligent.
The brachial plexus contains five nerves that run from the spine to the arm and hand. These nerves allow you to move your arms, hands, and shoulders. If the nerves suffer damage such as tearing or stretching, the arm is weak or doesn't work.
Four Types of Brachial Plexus Injuries With Erb's Palsy
A baby could suffer from one of four types of injuries that cause Erb's Palsy:
When a doctor uses forceps and other tools to help the baby through the birth canal, they could damage the nerves by ripping them away from the spine avulsion. This is the most serious of the four types of Erb's Palsy.
Sometimes, the doctor might tear the nerve but not rip it from the spine. The baby still has damage, but not as severe as avulsion.
A nerve might tear and heal, but it could also leave scar tissue that interferes with the nerves. The scarred tissue often blocks signals from the nerves to the muscles.
Sometimes, the nerve merely stretches the most common type of Erb's palsy. Many children can recover from this, though some might never fully recover and could have issues with the affected side for life.
Erb's Palsy in Adults and Children
Many people associate Erb's palsy with difficult births. Sometimes, the nerve stretches when a doctor has to move the baby's head to make room for the shoulders to get through the birth canal. Issues with the nerves can happen in vaginal births and cesareans. Brachial plexus birth palsy (Erb's palsy) usually happens about 12,000 times per year and is more common with larger babies as they often get stuck in the birth canal.
However, adults could also suffer from Erb's palsy. If you have a traumatic injury to your arm, shoulder, or back, part or all of it could result in Erb's palsy.
Symptoms of Erb's Palsy
You might wonder how you know your child is suffering from Erb's palsy. Your child's pediatrician can test your child's arm to let you know for sure.
However, look for these signs:
- The baby cannot lift their arm away from his body.
- The baby cannot bend her elbow.
- The baby's palm points rearward, and the fingers tend to curl.
One of the main symptoms is numbness in your hand or arm. However, your baby will not be able to tell you if his hand or arm is numb. Your pediatrician can test the baby to see if he has Erb's palsy. Tests include imaging tests such as a CT with a myelogram or an MRI and electromyography.
Erb's Palsy Birth Defect
If your baby suffers from Erb's palsy, the doctor or another medical professional may have been negligent during the birthing process. When you retain a birth defect attorney, the firm will investigate the case, including checking the medical professional's record, the hospital's record, and your medical records.
If the investigation finds any negligence, you will be able to recover compensation on behalf of your child. A medical professional's education and experience hold them to a higher standard of care than a non-medical professional.
Risks of Erb's Palsy
In some cases, your baby might suffer from Erb's palsy due to no fault from the medical professionals. However, when a baby is in a high-risk situation, medical professionals must take extra precautions to try to prevent this condition. Even babies who have a higher risk of Erb's palsy can suffer the condition because of a medical professional's negligence. Thus, you should never assume that the baby has issues because of a difficult birth.
Risks associated with Erb's palsy include:
- The baby has a high birth weight.
- The mother is overweight or obese.
- The mother has gestational diabetes.
- The mother has diabetes and had the disease before she got pregnant.
- The mother's previous pregnancy resulted in a baby with shoulder dystocia.
- The mother receives an epidural or oxytocin during labor.
- The baby is breech.
When medical professionals know that one or more of these risks exist, they might consider taking different steps during the birthing process. Sometimes, the medical professional needs to decide at the very last minute.
Recovering Damages for a Baby Born with Erb's Palsy
If an investigation finds that medical professionals were negligent and caused your baby's condition, you could recover damages, including medical expenses. In cases where the Erb's palsy does not resolve, you could also recover pain, suffering, and future earning capacity.
Birth Defect Negligence
To determine negligence, you must prove that:
- The medical professional or entity had a duty of care to ensure a safe birth experience for you and your baby.
- The medical professional breached the duty of care by carelessness or other negligent behavior.
- The baby suffered injuries because of the medical professional's negligence.
- The breach of the duty of care caused the baby's condition.
- You (your baby) suffered damages because of the medical professional's negligence.
Negligent actions might include:
- Attending birth while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Attending the birth while fatigued.
- Misdiagnosing a condition that makes a baby a high risk for Erb's palsy.
- Failing to diagnose a condition that makes a baby a high risk for Erb's palsy.
- Improper dosages of medications during the birthing process.
- Giving incorrect medications during the birthing process.
If your child suffers from Erb's palsy and you suspect that the negligence of medical professionals caused the injury, contact a birth injury attorney as soon as possible.