Birth Injury Law

Brachial Plexus Birth Injuries

No matter the circumstances of the delivery, parents worry about the health and safety of their newborn. A traumatic birth injury can cause severe injuries to the baby, including nerve damage to the neck, shoulder, and arms. Unavoidable complications can cause some of these injuries. But some birth injuries happen because of medical malpractice.

A doctor or midwife delivering a baby using forceps or suction can negligently cause head, neck, and shoulder damage. If you want to know if the injuries were avoidable, talk to a birth injury lawyer for more information about your rights.

What Is a Brachial Plexus Birth Injury?

The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that connect the spinal cord to the nerves of the neck and shoulders, providing nervous system feedback for the chest, shoulder, arms, and hands. The nerves connect to the areas of the cervical spine at C5 through the thoracic T1.

Where a brachial plexus injury occurs can impact the areas affected by the nerve damage. Brachial plexus injuries are some of the most common birth injuries. According to a study in the journal Pediatric Child Health, perinatal brachial plexus palsy affects as many as 5.1 infants per 1,000 live births.

What Are Different Types of Brachial Plexus Injuries?

There are different types of these injuries, including:

  • Erb’s palsy (upper part of the brachial plexus at C5 to C7)
  • Klumpke’s palsy (lower part at C8 and T1)
  • Total plexus (all parts C5 to T1)
  • Horner’s syndrome (damage extends to T2 to T4, with drooping eyelids, smaller pupils, and other facial symptoms)

What Causes Brachial Plexus Palsy?

Obstetrical brachial plexus injuries are most often associated with difficult deliveries. When the baby does not present normally or has delivery complications, using pressure to deliver the baby can cause traumatic injuries. Risk factors for damage to the nerves of the brachial plexus can include:

  • Larger than average baby (macrosomia)
  • Smaller birth canal (cephalopelvic disproportion)
  • Shoulder dystocia
  • Breech presentation
  • Use of forceps or vacuum extraction
  • Prolonged labor

What Are the Signs of a Brachial Plexus Injury?

Parents can struggle to identify obstetric brachial plexus palsy immediately after birth. The baby’s nerves aren’t fully developed and may not seem to be in pain. Expressing pain is more likely if it comes from a clavicle fracture or other injuries. Signs and symptoms of a possible brachial plexus injury include:

  • Paralysis in the upper extremities
  • Muscle weakness in the affected arm
  • Limp shoulder

Your pediatrician can check the child for brachial plexus birth injuries with a physical exam, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and nerve conduction studies.

How Can Doctors Treat Brachial Plexus Injuries?

The severity of the nerve injuries can depend on the extent of the damage. Stretched nerves that do not tear are the most common and generally resolve on their own. A rupture, or neurapraxia, involves torn nerves that may need nerve surgery if they do not recover. An avulsion is the most serious, where the nerve roots tear at the spinal cord. This needs surgical treatment to replace the damaged nerves (nerve grafting or nerve transfer).

Doctors will observe your child to see if the brachial plexus birth palsy heals naturally. On follow-up, if healthy nerve function returns, the child may not need further treatment. For other nerve injuries, treatment options include physical therapy or occupational therapy. This could include range-of-motion exercises, stretching, and strength training. The child may require surgical procedures to address neonatal brachial plexus palsy nerve repair if necessary.

Who Is Responsible For My Child’s Severe Injuries?

Unfortunately, some brachial plexus injuries are unavoidable birth complications, and no one is to blame. However, if medical errors caused birth injuries, the doctor or hospital might be liable.

A doctor is responsible for a child’s birth injuries if they committed professional negligence. To prove medical malpractice, you have to show the doctor deviated from medical standards. In other words, did the doctor do something other reasonable doctors would not have done?

For example, common medical practice requires tests at certain times during the pregnancy. Without proper testing, risk signs of serious birth complications may never be diagnosed. If a delayed diagnosis caused your child nerve damage that was preventable with the test, this may rise to the level of medical malpractice.

A medical malpractice lawsuit can hold the dangerous doctor responsible and help other parents avoid a similar tragedy. A lawsuit can also help you and your family get money for damages, including:

  • Medical expenses
  • Future medical care
  • Lost earning potential
  • Pain and suffering

If you think medical errors caused your child’s brachial plexus injuries, learn about your legal rights before signing anything from the hospital. Talk to an experienced birth injury lawyer to find out how to get financial compensation for your losses.

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