Not all birth defects have natural causes. Some are caused by avoidable trauma.
The birth process can be a stressful time not only for mother and child, but also the delivery team. Complications such as a long or difficult labor, a breech birth or the baby’s shoulder being lodged against the mother’s pelvis may create a situation in which medical providers must take prompt measures to avoid fetal injury.
A brachial plexus injury is one type of fetal harm that can permanently affect mobility and sensation of the shoulder, arm, and hand. Occurring in an estimated 1.5 out of 1,000 live births, the side effects can result in lifelong disability and ongoing medical expenses.
Medical training is designed to prepare doctors and nurses to identify and resolve issues during labor and delivery. Despite their years of schooling and best efforts to deliver optimal outcomes, even the best medical professionals can make mistakes. These mistakes on occasion rise to the level of malpractice. This is a comparative measure of care that says, in effect, a doctor failed to take action that could have prevented injury, and that a reasonable doctor would have acted differently.
Separating medical unavoidability from medical negligence is a difficult determination and one that is easier to make with help from an experienced medical malpractice attorney.
If your child suffered Erb’s palsy, Klumpke’s paralysis, or another brachial plexus injury at birth, you should discuss your situation free of charge with the Seattle medical malpractice law firm of Otorowski Morrow & Golden, PLLC. Call or send us an online message now.
The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that connects the upper limbs (the shoulder,arm, forearm and hand) to the spinal cord, allowing for movement and feeling in this region. When these nerves are damaged, it impairs the muscles that lift and bend the arm or straighten and bring the arm down.
The extent of injury and impairment depends on the type of nerve damage. Types of nerve trauma, from most to least severe, include:
Conditions related to brachial plexus injury include:
Recovery from a brachial plexus injury within several months or one year of birth may be possible, but it depends upon the type and severity of nerve injury. Nerve avulsion, for example, presents virtually no chance of recovery without surgery, and even then a full recovery is not always possible. Conversely, a child with neuropraxic injury has a very good chance of getting better with treatment.
Non-surgical treatment options include physical rehabilitation therapy and the use of braces, splints, and other aids. In cases where nerve damage is irreversible, a child may require ongoing treatment such as therapy, surgery, and specialty equipment and care. The lifetime cost of a severe brachial plexus injury may easily exceed $1 million.
Birth trauma is one possible cause of a brachial plexus injury. In rare cases, a hereditary condition can also cause malformation of the brachial plexus nerves. Unusual positioning of the fetus in the uterus can also cause prenatal onset of brachial plexus injuries.
Shoulder dystocia – where a shoulder of the fetus lodges against the mother’s pubic bone, causing the baby to be caught in the birth canal – is a condition commonly associated with brachial plexus injuries.
Because a child trapped in the birth canal can experience a dangerous or even fatal decrease in blood oxygen, the doctor is typically forced to take remedial action. Sometimes, in an effort to facilitate a vaginal delivery (by, for example, pulling on the baby or using a vacuum extractor or forceps), the brachial plexus nerves are stretched or torn.
Shoulder dystocia is more common in fetuses that are large and when labor is difficult or long. It is also more common among mothers who are obese or diabetic.
A Caesarean section (C-section) or episiotomy (an incision to widen the vaginal opening) may be necessary to avoid fetal harm. In many successful malpractice cases, the plaintiffs are able to show that the doctor should have – based on the fact that the delivery was particularly difficult or the child was larger than normal – performed a C-section, and that the failure to do so resulted in a brachial plexus injury.
Every birth is unique. In deciding whether a doctor’s action or inaction contributed to your baby’s brachial plexus injury, evidence must be weighed and medical experts consulted.
You understandably have questions about your child’s injury, and the malpractice attorneys at Otorowski Morrow & Golden, PLLC, would be happy to answer them. Our firm’s experienced lawyers have a proven record of getting results for birth injury victims and their families. We’ve recovered millions of dollars in compensation for victims of serious birth injuries. We’re known, respected, and trusted for our handling of serious and complex birth injury cases.
To get started with a free case review, please contact us now. We handle birth injury cases in Seattle and throughout Washington State.