What is Erb's Palsy?
Statistics show that approximately 27 out of every 1,000 births involve some sort of medical error, with Erb’s palsy being one of the most common. Although most women give birth in a hospital surrounded by medical professionals, a child's birth injury can happen at almost any point during labor and delivery.
These risk factors are often the result of medical negligence or error. A baby with Erb’s palsy may recover fully and quickly, or may suffer lifelong physical and/or mental limitations.
Physicians, hospitals, and their support staff have both a moral and legal obligation to adhere to the standard of medical records and skill in their community in the safe delivery of babies.
When this duty is not maintained and a birth injury results, a birth defects lawyer can help you secure justice for your child by obtaining financial compensation to provide for the child’s present and future needs. Please contact Schmidt & Clark, LLP to discuss your Erb's Palsy settlement options today.
Signs and Symptoms of Erb's Palsy
The symptoms of injury differ depending on the extent of the nerve damage suffered. Some babies are able to recover completely within a few months. However, many babies are left with permanent nerve damage which limits their use of the arm. Erb’s palsy symptoms may include:
- Limp or paralyzed arm
- Lack of muscle control in the arm, hand, or wrist
- Lack of feeling or sensation in the arm or hand
Although minor injuries will typically clear up on their own, more severe cases may require long-term treatment. In especially serious cases, patients may never fully recover feeling or movement in the affected arm.
How Medical Malpractice Can Cause Erb's Palsy
Erb's palsy can be sustained during delivery as the result of a birth emergency. The baby's shoulder may become stuck on the mother's pubic bone causing the nerves which control movement and feeling in the shoulder, arm, and hand to be injured when the doctor pulls the baby out of the mother's pelvis.
As a result, the baby may suffer severe limitations in the movement of their arm.
Cerebral palsy is the result of a nerve injury. All the arm’s nerves are connected to a group of nerves near the neck which is called the brachial plexus. The brachial plexus nerves are responsible for feeling and motion in the hand, fingers, and arm.
Common causes of cerebral palsy in infants include:
- Breech delivery, in which the baby is facing the wrong direction (feet first, rather than the baby's head first) during the delivery process
- Delivery problems, which can lodge the baby in the birth canal
- Excessive pulling on the baby's shoulders during cesarean section delivery
- Fetal birth injury (an injury that occurs before birth when the baby is still in the womb)
Types of Brachial Plexus Injury
There are several types of injuries that can be suffered by a child during delivery. The determination and diagnosis of the type of a child's brachial plexus injury which has been sustained by a child is often difficult. The symptoms of Erb's palsy may be similar, even though the degree to which the nerve has been injured is very different.
Each type of Erb's palsy refers to a different degree of damage to the brachial plexus nerve, and could require different treatment for the child to minimize the impact the injury has throughout their life. The following are 3 of the most common types:
- Erb’s Palsy (most common variety) - Also known as Brachial Plexus Paralysis, is a condition that can affect 1 or all of the 5 primary nerves that supply movement and feeling to the arm. Each baby's injury is individual. The paralysis can be partial or complete; the damage to each nerve can range from bruising to tearing. Some babies with Erb's palsy recover on their own; however, some may require specialist intervention.
- Complete Brachial Plexus Nerve Injury - Occurs when injury affects all 5 nerves in the brachial plexus. It results in paralysis and demonstrable sensory loss in the entire arm, from the shoulder down. In addition, Horner's Syndrome, which causes eyelid droop, undilated pupil, and dormancy of sweat glands in the cheek of the affected side of the body, often accompanies the injury.
- Klumpke’s Palsy - involves C7 and T-1 (cervical vertebra #7 and thoracic vertebra #1). There is a weakness of the wrist and finger flexors of the small muscles of the hand. Early immobilization is followed by passive movements with a view of preventing contractures (fibrosis of connective tissue and skin, fascia, muscle, or joint capsule that prevents normal mobility of the related tissue or joint). A regimen of physical therapy and/or occupational therapy may be prescribed. Surgery is an option in severe cases and especially if a nerve has been severed.
Medical Negligence Erb's Palsy Injuries
Some of the most common birth injury cases result from Erb’s (or brachial) palsy. Unfortunately, a child's injury is often the result of complications during child delivery itself, though it can sometimes occur before or some time after delivery.
The condition known as Erb’s palsy is caused by an injury to the brachial plexus—the nerves surrounding the shoulder. Erb’s palsy is not cerebral palsy, because it is not caused by brain injury or brain abnormalities. An Erb’s palsy birth injury is typically characterized by weakness or paralysis of the arm.
Ninety percent of all Erb’s palsy injury cases in children are the result of child birth injury, particularly shoulder dystocia. This is a birth complication that occurs when a child’s shoulders get impacted on a mother’s pelvic bones.
An Erb’s palsy injury affects approximately 1 to 2 babies for every one thousand births. In many cases, an Erb’s palsy injury is a preventable condition.
The use of forceps, vacuum, or other tools to aid the baby through the birth canal with excessive force may increase the chance that a baby will suffer from Erb's Palsy. Some studies have also found an association between some drugs used to induce labor and a child's injury.
However, the condition can also occur when conditions are optimal and birth appears to proceed with no complications.
Even with surgical intervention, many children with Erb's palsy birth injury will continue to have some weakness in the shoulder, arm, or hand indefinitely. There may be surgical procedures that can be performed at a later date that might improve function.
Our Erb's palsy lawyers will make sure that any Erb's Palsy settlement or reward includes payments for future treatment and therapies, as well as for pain and suffering.
Erb's palsy treatment is critical in attempting to combat weakness in the affected extremities. Your child's physician can help you develop an effective treatment program. Time is of the essence when beginning Erb's palsy treatment, so don't wait to see if it goes away on its own.
Treatment options for individuals with Erb’s palsy depend on the type and severity of the injury. Infants with milder injuries often heal on their own, but exercise and therapy are prescribed to ensure a full recovery. Regular follow-up appointments track an infant's progress and ensure that the treatment plan is on the right track.
Erb's Palsy Surgery Options
A pediatric neurosurgeon may recommend surgery to improve the arm functions of a child with Erb’s palsy. Often this surgery is more effective when done early in the child’s life. Some studies have shown that it may not be successful when done after the child is one year old.
Serious cases of Erb’s Palsy are often treated with exercise and physical therapy, and 80% of the time, babies born with the condition can achieve recovery without surgical intervention. If surgical intervention is required, it should be performed early on if at all.
Best results occur when the child is 5 to 12 months of age. Beyond this age group, surgery may not be as effective.
Whether an Erb’s palsy injury requires surgery will depend on the cause and severity of a patient’s condition. When necessary (for more severe cases), Erb’s palsy surgery can include:
- Nerve grafts – in which damaged nerves are spliced with a healthy nerve taken from another part of the body
- Tendon transfers – in which healthy tendons from another part of the body are relocated to the affected neck area to compensate for damaged nerves.
Because nerve tissue grows slowly (about 1 inch/month), it can take years for patients to regain arm, shoulder, or hand movement and sensation following surgery.
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If your child or other loved one was diagnosed with Erb's Palsy, you should contact a personal injury lawyer immediately for legal help. You may be entitled to pursue compensation for medical expenses by filing an Erb's Palsy Lawsuit and we can help.