Erb’s Palsy (Arm Palsy)
Erb’s palsy is the name given to a form of brachial plexus palsy, which affects newborns as a result of injuries suffered during birth. The brachial plexus is a network of nerves near the neck that give rise to all the nerves of the arm. These nerves provide movement and feeling to the arms, hands and fingers. Brachial plexus birth palsy causes arm weakness and loss of motion in affected children. Between one and two of every 1,000 babies have this condition, which occurs when an infant’s neck is stretched to the side or down, etc. during a difficult delivery.
Erb’s Palsy Causes
The nerves of the brachial plexus can be injured during a delivery if the infant’s head and neck are pulled toward the side or down, etc. as the shoulders pass through the birth canal. It can also occur when the infant’s shoulders are pulled on during a head-first delivery or when pressure is applied on the baby’s raised arms during a breech or feet-first delivery. While brachial plexus injuries usually affect only the upper arm, Erb’s palsy affects the upper and lower arm. Some of the risk factors for Erb’s Palsy include breech delivery, larger-than-average newborn and shoulder dystocia or difficulty delivering the baby’s shoulder after the head has already come out.
Erb’s palsy is discovered after birth as a result of typical signs and symptoms such as:
- The infant’s inability to move an arm or shoulder
- Weak or absent reflexes in the arm
- Loss of feeling or sensation in the arm
- Arm is bent toward the bod
Treatment for Erb’s Palsy
Many newborns with Erb’s palsy may be able to recover on their own and many never recover. However, it could take up to two years for complete recovery if there ever is a complete recovery. Daily physical therapy is the primary treatment method for Erb’s palsy. Range of motion exercises for the shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand as well as physical therapy will help the joint from becoming permanently stiff, a condition called joint contracture.
However, if there is no change over the first three to six months, your doctor may recommend nerve surgery to improve the potential outcome. Nerve surgery will not restore normal function because nerves recover very slowly and it may take months or even years for nerves repaired at the neck to reach the muscles of the lower arm and hand. Many children with brachial plexus injuries will continue to experience some weakness in the shoulder, arm or hand. In some children, the affected arm is noticeably smaller than the unaffected arm. This occurs because nerves affect the growth of the arm.
Erb’s Palsy and Medical Malpractice
Erb’s palsy is often caused by medical negligence and is widely considered an avoidable birth injury. It can be prevented with proper training and prenatal monitoring. Knowledgeable obstetricians should be able to detect signs of a potential shoulder dystocia prior to childbirth or at least the risk factors associated with it. When doctors use extraction tools such as vacuums or forceps, the tools are placed on the infant’s head or shoulder and used to apply extra pressure to dislodge the shoulder. Doctors who are not properly trained in the use of these tools can cause damage to the infant’s delicate skull including nerve damage in the neck, shoulders and arms.
Recent Developments in New York Erb’s Palsy Cases
There is no question that Erb’s palsy is caused by nerves in the child’s neck and shoulders getting stretched etc. during birth. About 20 years ago, a small group of obstetricians had developed a theory that contradicts current scientific wisdom. This theory stated that Erb’s palsy might not be caused by the delivering physician exerting force on the baby’s head or neck, but due to the “natural forces of labor.” So, the blame was placed on Mother Nature, not the ineptitude of the medical professional. This theory helped deflect the blame away from midwives and obstetricians for two decades, in some cases.
However, in not one, but three recent cases in New York, this theory has been called out for what it really is – a way out for the medical community. In these cases, plaintiffs’ lawyers were able to prove that the defense’s theory was just that — a theory and not a verified scientific principle or fact. It was never tested scientifically. Together, these three decisions suggest that the maternal forces theory is no longer an effective defense strategy. It is difficult to tell at this time what sort of an impact it will have on future Erb’s palsy case decisions. However, it is now evident from these three recent decisions that the maternal forces theory can be successfully countered.
Contacting an Experienced Erb’s Palsy Injury Lawyer
Parents of children with Erb’s palsy face significant expenses for medical care and rehabilitation. In such cases, families of injured victims can seek compensation for damages including, but not limited to, medical expenses, permanent injuries, disabilities, loss of wages and/or earning capacity, past and future pain and suffering, etc.
If you or a loved one has been injured in New York as a result of medical negligence, the experienced New York medical malpractice attorneys at the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Wilhelm can provide you with more information about pursuing your legal rights. One of our clients obtained a $1,846,000 result in an Erb’s Palsy case, which remained the highest paid Erb’s Palsy case for a long time. Another of our clients also recovered $1,400,000 in another Erb’s Palsy case.
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