Erb’s palsy, also known as Erb–Duchenne palsy or brachial plexus injury, is muscular paralysis of the arm resulting primarily from trauma due to difficult childbirth. The damage is centered on the main nerves of the arm that are part of the brachial plexus. Erb’s palsy from birth trauma may result when shoulder dystocia occurs during childbirth because of the abnormal position of the baby, cephalopelvic disproportion or inadequate contractions of the uterus. As a result, the obstetrician may apply excessive force in delivering the baby, causing the C5-C6 nerves to be pulled, stretched, torn or avulsed.
When the damage is minor, Erb’s palsy may resolve without medical intervention over several months. On the other hand, more severe cases may require physical rehabilitation or surgery, and must be performed as early as possible. Such procedures do not work as effectively on older infants. In most cases where the nerves are torn, recovery of function is partial. Even then it may take several years and a series of procedures as well as rehabilitation. Avulsed nerves cannot be repaired.
Living with Erb’s palsy where the nerves were torn or avulsed is not easy. It usually affects one shoulder, and may involve the arm and hand as well. The affected limb will grow as the child ages but at a slower rate, and since it does not function, it will become noticeably smaller as the child grows older. Aside from the functional disability, children with Erb’s palsy may feel apart from their peers and may affect their social and emotional development. It is always painful for any parent to watch a child suffer through no fault of its own.
Liability for a birth injury such as Erb’s palsy is not easy to pinpoint. In some cases, it may have been necessary for the doctor to use force in order to save the life of the infant. However, there are instances where the doctor was simply negligent, careless or incompetent, in which case it may be possible to bring an action of medical malpractice against the doctor and possibly the hospital. This will help in making life easier for the child, who will need extensive and long-term medical care. Consult with an Erb’s palsy lawyer in your area to get an assessment of your case.