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Erb's palsy negligence claims

What is Erb's palsy?

This is where the nerves of a baby's neck are damaged during childbirth, and is sometimes known as brachial plexus paralysis. The baby's shoulders can get trapped against the mother's pubic bone as the baby is in the birth canal – called shoulder dystocia – which makes delivery very difficult.

Approximately 10% of Erb's Palsy cases result in permanent disability.

How can the injury happen?

When inappropriate force is applied to the baby's head or shoulders during delivery ( e.g. pulling on the baby's head), or if the baby's head is pulled away from the collar bone in an attempt to dislodge the stuck shoulder, this can result in strain or damage to the brachial plexus nerves.

What are the brachial plexus nerves?

The brachial plexus is a large group of nerves that run from the neck to the arm. The nerves provide feeling and movement to the arm and the hand.

There are 5 main nerves within the brachial plexus group, all of which contribute in some way to the movement and feeling of the hand and arm on one side.

What type of damage can be sustained to the nerves?

The nerves can be bruised or can be more seriously damaged, where tearing is caused. Bruising type injuries will often heal with time. However, the more serious injuries often require specialist treatment and sometimes an operation to try to re-attach the nerves. Where there has been a severe injury, the child can be left with a permanent disability.

The mildest form of brachial plexus injury is neuropraxia, which involves the stretching of the nerve. More severe is where the nerve is torn and does not heal properly. A rupture can happen, and involves a tearing of the nerves, but they remain attached to the spine. The most severe presentation of a brachial plexus injury is avulsion, where the nerve roots are completely dislodged from the spine, creating complete paralysis.

What other injury can be caused by shoulder dystocia?

Sometimes other injuries can be sustained as well as damage to the nerves. These can include:

  • Fractured collar bone
  • Fractured humerus
  • Sublaxation of the cervical spine
  • Facial palsy
  • Phrenic nerve paresis (occasionally)

Symptoms of Erb's Palsy include:

  • An elbow that cannot bend
  • Weakness and/or paralysis of the arm and hand
  • A limp hand
  • Horner's syndrome (where the eyelid droops and the pupil is slightly smaller on the same side as the weakened arm)
  • Torticollis – the baby faces away from the injured arm and is unable to face forward for any real length of time
  • Scar tissue may form at the site of the injury causing pain and discomfort

Has the Erb's Palsy been caused by negligent care and can I bring a claim for my child/me?

If any of the following has occurred, or you think it has, it might be possible to bring a claim for compensation:

  • Where unnecessary force and traction has been applied to the baby during delivery, which results in injury;
  • A failure to estimate a large baby's weight and size prior to delivery, and not adequately plan for the potential difficulty of shoulder dystocia;
  • A failure to perform a caesarean section when there are clinical indications to do so (It is relatively unusual for a clinician to consider a caesarean section to avoid the risk of shoulder dystocia generally);
  • A failure to recognise and treat maternal diabetes (which can result on a large baby at the time of delivery, and thus increase the chance of shoulder dystocia);
  • A failure to follow the appropriate protocol for shoulder dystocia (this involves trying a number of different manoeuvres to try to free the baby's stuck shoulder);

Sometimes, it is not possible for the clinicians to predict that the baby's shoulder will become trapped, or prevent it happening. Sometimes it is not possible to avoid damage to the nerves while the shoulder is being freed. If this is the case, it may not be possible to bring a claim for compensation.   

However if your child is suffering from erb's palsy then get in touch with our specialist claims team to discuss your case and find out whether you can claim. Call us on 0800 307 7620 or email [email protected].

Please note that there are time limitations on making a claim, for further information click here.

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