Virtually everyone has heard of cerebral palsy–the brain injury many children suffer at birth as a result of oxygen deprivation. However, far fewer community members have likely heard of Erb’s palsy, which is also an injury that affects many local children and arises during childbirth, potentially due to medical malpractice.
Erb’s palsy refers to a form of brachial plexus injury. The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves that exist around the shoulder. When this bundle is damaged, then the resulting harm often seriously affects the child’s ability to move the shoulder, arm, wrist hand, and fingers. Brachial plexus injuries are not only associated with Erb’s palsy, but also traumatic injuries to adults with significant forceful lateral injuries to the shoulder, neck and head, such as in motorcycle accidents.
Erb’s palsy is often caused by excessive force used during childbirth. As you might expect, newborn bodies are quite sensitive, and so extreme care must be taken to ensure their new muscles, bones, joints, and nerves are not overtaxed. Sadly, in certain situations medical providers may not be as careful and required in applying that force. More particularly, the brachial plexus nerves are often stretched or torn when pressure is placed on the arms during a breech birth or when the neck is pressed to the side when the shoulders (referred to as shoulder dystocia) are exiting the body during a traditional birth.
Those familiar with the injury explain that the risk of brachial plexus damage is more likely in certain situations, such as a breech delivery or when the infant is larger than average. In general, all situations where the birth is more traumatic, the higher the risk of excess force being applied. The intention is always to facilitate the birth, but the risk of applying the force and causing injury often outweighs the benefit of the force.
Erb’s palsy is sometimes used colloquially as a shorthand for all birth related brachial plexus injuries, but in reality it references a brachial plexus injury of both parts of the arm. Conversely, when the nerve damage harms the hand, then the infant suffers from Klumpke palsy. At times Klumpke palsy also results in a drooping eyelid on the opposite side of the body.
Fortunately, over the past few decades the instances of Erb’s palsy and other brachial plexus injuries have decreased. This is all attributable to advances in birthing techniques which minimize the use of force. But that is not to say that it still does not occur. Unfortunately, there remain situations where medical professionals involved in childbirth do not act prudently, use too much force, and negligently damage the brachial plexus. The child is often stuck with a lifelong injury as a result.
The civil justice system provides an avenue for those affected by negligent care during childbirth to receive compensation for the resulting harm. That includes many situations where Erb’s Palsy develops as a result of medical negligence.
An Erb’s Palsy claim, in Florida, falls under medical malpractice statute or Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Plan (both found in Chapter 766). Medical negligence claims tend to be far more complicated and expensive to bring, so it is important to speak with a medical malpractice attorney as soon as you suspect medical negligence.