Erb's Palsy Lawyer
Different doctors have different methods for delivering a baby. However, a mistake made by the delivering physician or another medical professional could cause severe nerve damage to the newborn baby’s arms. The condition, known as Erb’s Palsy, may leave a child permanently paralyzed or with loss of feeling in the affected limb.
While only one or two out of every 1,000 babies have this condition, the unfortunate fact is that Erb’s Palsy could have been prevented in many cases. If your child suffers from Erb’s Palsy as a result of preventable errors on the part of a medical professional, you may have the right to demand compensation for the medical treatment your child will need.
At the Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, our Erb’s Palsy injury lawyers have over a century of collective experience helping families whose children have been harmed by birth injuries such as Erb’s Palsy and other brachial plexus injuries. We aggressively pursue compensation for the lifelong care needs of the child, the family’s hardship and quality of life enhancements for the child.
Contact us today to learn more about your family’s legal rights and options and about how a brachial plexus injury lawyer can help your family seek compensation and justice if your child has been harmed by a preventable medical error. We handle medical malpractice cases on Long Island and nearby areas including Nassau County, Suffolk County and Queens. We respond to all inquiries within 24 hours. We speak English, Spanish and Russian.
Causes of Erb’s Palsy
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Erb’s palsy is a birth injury caused by nerve damage to the brachial plexus, a large network of nerves running from the spinal cord to the arms and shoulders. These nerves are responsible for controlling muscles in the shoulders and arms.
Brachial plexus injuries usually occur when one or both of the infant’s shoulders are lodged behind the mother’s pelvic bone during the birth process. This is called shoulder dystocia. The nerve injury is caused when the physician pulls on the baby’s head while the shoulder is stuck in the birth canal.
Erb’s palsy is a specific type of brachial plexus injury that affects the top brachia plexus nerves, impacting the shoulders and upper arms while leaving the hands and fingers unaffected.
Shoulder dystocia can occur in any vaginal delivery with any size baby, but is more common with larger babies, and particularly when the mother has diabetes. Many brachial plexus injuries may be avoided by anticipating delivery complications and switching to a caesarian section if the baby’s shoulder has become wedged behind the pelvic bone.
Erb’s palsy, Klumpke’s palsy and other shoulder dystocia injuries involve loss of feeling and some degree of paralysis, but they vary in severity:
- Shock to the nerves — If there is no tear, the disability usually resolves on its own as the baby grows.
- Scar tissue which compresses surrounding nerves — There will be some recovery, and function may improve with extensive physical therapy.
- Stretch injury that ruptures the nerve — This will not repair itself, but a nerve graft operation (if feasible and successful) may restore some function.
- Avulsion fracture — The nerve is torn away from the spinal cord and usually cannot be repaired, although a nerve taken from the leg may restore some function if the surgery is performed before nine months of age.
Erb’s palsy can be heartbreaking for the parents and seriously disabling for the child, particularly when one arm is completely paralyzed or both arms are compromised.
Symptoms of Erb’s Palsy
Diagnosing Erb’s palsy and other brachial plexus injuries in newborns is difficult because infants cannot describe the symptoms they are feeling. Mild cases of Erb’s Palsy may only cause numbness in the shoulders and arm.
These cases may cause mild weakness of the arm. A doctor may diagnose a brachial plexus injury in a newborn by using a quick test of muscle tone, reflexes and other indicators. The test is known as the Apgar test. Weak muscle tone in one arm may be a sign that a newborn has suffered a brachial plexus injury.
Doctors can also diagnose Erb’s palsy and other brachial plexus injuries using the Moro test. This tests the “Moro” reflex by simulating a falling sensation to see if the infant reacts and flexes his or her arms and hands in response. If a newborn has no Moro reflex, it may be a sign of a brachial plexus injury.
Severe cases of Erb’s palsy and other brachial plexus injuries will have more pronounced symptoms. For example, a newborn suffering from Erb’s palsy may be unable to move an affected arm or may have a weak grip. In other cases, a newborn’s arm will turn inward and flex at the elbow. The child may hold the arm against the body or in an unusual position.
Treatment of Erb’s Palsy
The appropriate treatment for Erb’s Palsy and other types of brachial plexus injuries depends on the type and severity of damage to the nerves. In some cases, a newborn may have suffered neuropraxia, which involves the stretching or compression of nerves without tearing or rupture.
Neuropraxia injuries will usually heal on their own, especially with some physical therapy to help improve a newborn’s range of motion. The damaged nerves will heal themselves over several months. This is why more than two-thirds of newborns who suffer a brachial plexus injury achieve a full recovery within two years with little or no medical intervention.
In cases involving more severe neuropraxia, the infant may require surgery. Newborns have a limited window after suffering a brachial plexus injury for surgical procedures to be effective. To treat severe injuries, a surgical procedure may be performed as soon as three months after delivery. If too much time passes, the muscles in the infant’s arm will deteriorate too much, and the nerves will not reattach to them.
A newborn may also suffer a neuroma, which is an accumulation of scar tissue on a nerve that causes compression damage. Treatment for neuroma typically involves surgery, either to remove the scar tissue to relieve pressure on the nerve, or to excise the section of the nerve surrounded by scar tissue and graft healthy nerves from elsewhere in the newborn’s body. A nerve graft does not fully resolve impairment in the arm or hand. While the body part where the graft came from will lose some sensation, the child should retain full range of motion and strength.
If a newborn has suffered a rupture (the tearing of a nerve along its length) or a severing of the connection between a nerve and the spinal cord, the treatment will usually involve a nerve graft. In particularly severe cases, a newborn may require nerves from a donor in addition to grafts taken from his or her own body.
In some cases, surgical treatment may involve a nerve transfer. An undamaged nerve is taken from near the injury site and connected to muscles severed from the damaged nerve. The surgery also may involve a muscle transfer, in which the surgeon will move stronger muscles and tendons to support weaker ones.
In addition to surgery, treatment for Erb’s Palsy and other brachial plexus injuries typically involves physical therapy to improve blood flow and muscle tone, the use of a splint to hold an arm in the proper position, or Botox injections to relax tense muscles that pull joints into the wrong position.
Legal Issues in Erb’s Palsy Cases
Some types of birth-related trauma typically cause Erb’s Palsy in newborns. A powerful contraction during labor can cause a brachial plexus injury during labor, or a newborn may suffer nerve damage if he or she is stuck in an unusual position in the uterus or birth canal.
Unfortunately, some injuries are the result of negligence on the part of the attending doctor or delivery team members. Doctors are unlikely to admit to making an error that caused a birth injury. It can be challenging to prove that a healthcare professional’s act or omission caused your child to suffer injuries resulting in Erb’s Palsy, and that it constituted malpractice. You will need to work with an experienced New York Erbs Palsy attorney.
A medical error is only malpractice if the professional’s conduct fell below the accepted standard of care. The standard of care is usually defined as what a reasonably prudent medical professional of similar education, experience, and qualifications would do under the same circumstances in the same community.
As a result, a medical error might not be malpractice if other reasonable medical professionals would have made the same decision under the same circumstances. Establishing the applicable standard of care in your case typically requires an Erb’s Palsy attorney to hire independent medical professionals to evaluate your medical records and offer an opinion.
Along with establishing the applicable standard of care and proving that your healthcare providers breached the standard, you will need to show that the provider’s negligence was the cause of your child’s injury and that your child suffered some form of compensable harm.
If you can’t show that the professional did not meet the standard of care and that your child suffered severe harm, you will not have a viable medical malpractice claim for your child’s Erb’s Palsy.
In our experience, physicians and insurers commonly give parents other explanations for Erb’s palsy rather than admitting to making preventable medical errors. Our legal team is familiar with the common risk factors and the errors that lead to brachial plexus injuries. We also have a network of medical professionals in obstetrical medicine who can evaluate your medical records and determine what happened.
Questions for Your Doctor
If your newborn has suffered a brachial plexus injury and has developed Erb’s Palsy or some other condition as a result of the injury, there are some questions you should ask your child’s doctor.
- What do I need to do to help my child recover? Fortunately, most injuries that cause Erb’s Palsy will heal on their own. Your child’s doctor may recommend physical therapy or may give you gentle exercises you can do with your baby to ensure proper blood flow, muscle tone, and range of motion, and to promote healing of the nerves.
- Should my child undergo surgery? Serious nerve injuries will typically require surgery. Because newborns cannot communicate their symptoms, the severity of a nerve injury can usually only be determined through exploratory surgery. However, surgery on any newborn is risky and should only be performed if necessary. The severity of a nerve injury may be determined later if your newborn’s recovery is not progressing as quickly as it should. Your child’s doctor can give you signs to look out for that indicate your child’s injury is severe. Surgery must be performed within a few months after the initial injury to be effective, so they should schedule it sooner rather than later.
- Will my child need physical therapy? Physical therapy can help your child improve and maintain strength and range of motion in the affected shoulders and arms. Your child’s doctor should be able to refer you to physical therapists who specialize in working with newborns and infants.
- Will my child fully recover? If your child’s injury is severe enough, they may ultimately end up with some permanent impairment of the affected arms. In these cases, physical therapy and occupational therapy can teach your child how to perform everyday tasks despite their physical limitations.
What to Expect
Immediately after your child is born, the doctor will perform an Apgar test on your baby, which involves checking heart rate, reflexes, breathing, and muscle tone to confirm that your baby is healthy.
If your baby has labored breathing, abnormally high or low heart rate, or weakness in the muscles, they may perform additional tests to confirm whether your baby has suffered a brachial plexus injury or other nerve damage.
In some cases, a brachial plexus injury may not be diagnosable in the delivery room. Instead, symptoms may appear days or weeks after you have left the hospital. You should be on the lookout for signs of a brachial plexus injury, such as weakness in an arm or hand, an abnormal position of the arm (such as your baby turning their arm inward), or an inability to move the arm.
If your child is diagnosed with Erb’s palsy or other condition arising from a brachial plexus injury, the treatment your child will undergo will depend on the severity of his or her injury. Most cases resolve with little or no treatment within a year or two.
Gentle exercises or physical therapy may be in order. If the injury does not heal on its own, your infant may need to undergo surgery to repair the damaged nerves. Timing for surgery is critical – you may have to wait to confirm that your child’s injury will not resolve on its own.
It’s normal to have questions about what caused your child’s condition. If you suspect that a doctor’s error may be to blame, the only way you’ll know what really happened is talk to a New York Erb’s palsy attorney and have your medical records evaluated.
Contact an Erb’s Palsy Lawyer Today
When you hire the Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, you will work directly with our partners, Stephen Cohen and Richard Jaffe. As a trained EMT, attorney Richard Jaffe has a firsthand understanding of the seriousness of traumatic injuries such as brachial plexus injuries.
There is no cost to you to have your case reviewed. If we file an Erb’s palsy lawsuit on your behalf, we only charge an attorney fee unless we recover compensation for your through a negotiated settlement or a jury award. Most cases we handle are resolved without going to trial. .
Take the first step toward getting the justice your family deserves by calling our New York Erb’s Palsy lawyers at (516) 358-6900 or by filling out an online contact form.