While preparing for your child’s birth, there are many exciting things to think about and do. It can be easy to push the thought of something going wrong to the back of your mind – but unfortunately, labor and delivery complications are possible.
Among the most unthinkable possibilities is a birth injury, which can quickly turn the joyous gift of new life into a confusing nightmare that parents have no idea how to navigate. A child is born with a birth injury every 20 minutes in the United States.
One example is a brachial plexus birth injury, which damages the group of nerves located between the neck and shoulder. While some types of brachial plexus injuries are minor and heal on their own, more severe cases result in long-term or permanent loss of mobility and feeling in the shoulder, arm, wrist and/or hand.
While no medical professional is perfect, and emergencies do arise, research shows that up to half of birth injuries are preventable. Many cause lasting damage that alters the lives of parents and children forever.
When a healthcare provider’s failure to meet the expected standard of care leads to birth injury, a medical malpractice lawsuit may be in order. An experienced Washington, D.C. birth injury lawyer can focus on recovering appropriate financial compensation so traumatized families can begin to heal.
Overview of Brachial Plexus Birth Injuries
Brachial plexus injury often occurs as a result of shoulder dystocia, in which a baby’s shoulder is positioned improperly or too wide to fit through the birth canal. The shoulder gets stuck on one side of the pubic bone and can only be freed by tilting the baby’s head too far to the side. When the nerves between the shoulder and elbow are damaged, it’s called Erb’s palsy; damage to hand nerves is called Klumpke’s palsy.
The types of brachial plexus injuries are divided into types based on the severity of the damage.
- Neuropraxia (stretch) – most common and least severe; no tear in the nerve; usually heals itself
- Rupture – the nerve is torn but remains attached to the spinal cord
- Neuroma – tear in the nerve that heals itself but is accompanied by scar tissue, which presses on the nerve and prevents communication between the nerve and muscles
- Neuritis- a rare condition that affects the nerves going to the chest, shoulder, arm, and hand, causing sudden and severe pain that can progress to weakness, muscle loss, and even loss of sensation
- Avulsion – nerve has been severed from the spinal column; untreated avulsion most likely means some level of permanent paralysis
Brachial plexus injuries are usually immediately apparent and confirmable with subsequent tests. The injury’s severity must be determined as fast as possible to prevent permanent damage, especially because nerve regrowth is incredibly slow at approximately one inch per month.
Symptoms of Erb’s palsy include weakness, loss of feeling, and partial or total paralysis in one arm. Klumpke’s palsy presents with these and additional symptoms, including atrophy, numbness, or weakness in the forearm or hand; stiff joints in hand or wrist; potentially intense pain; eyelid drooping on one side of the face; and “claw hand,” in which the forearm lies flat while the wrist and fingers remain tightened.
The most important treatment for brachial plexus injuries is time.
Babies with brachial plexus injuries are carefully monitored by a doctor for changes in muscle strength during their first year. Some muscle and nerve recovery will happen on its own, but babies whose muscles fail to strengthen beyond a certain threshold may need surgery. Surgical intervention should be done before a baby turns one. Possible procedures include nerve grafting and nerve or muscle transfer.
Other treatment options include physical and/or post-surgical rehabilitation therapy and medication. Some babies with brachial plexus, no matter what treatments are utilized, will never fully recover.
Your Right to Compensation for Brachial Plexus Birth Injury
There is a legal difference between a brachial plexus birth injury that no one could have prevented and one that was due to gross medical negligence. It’s heartbreaking enough to bring home an injured newborn; knowing someone’s carelessness caused that injury is beyond devastating.
You and your child could face months, years, or a lifetime of expensive medical treatments for birth injuries, not to mention lost wages, ability to work, enjoyment of life, and more. As a parent, you may need therapy to cope with the trauma of a baby injured at birth. Your medical insurance will likely not cover all these costs, which can easily run into the hundreds of thousands.
A qualified birth injury attorney can determine whether your case qualifies for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Hospitals and physicians have powerful legal teams, and it is virtually impossible to win damages from them while representing yourself. If they offer a settlement, it could be far less than you deserve.
An experienced birth injury attorney can help prove that your baby’s doctor violated the standard of care – his obligation to provide the same competent care as another professional of his specialty. A law firm well-versed in birth injury medical malpractice will gather the witnesses and evidence you’ll need to show that your child’s harm was “more likely than not” a result of the negligent doctor’s actions.
Most importantly, your birth injury attorney can negotiate with the hospital, insurance companies, and courts on your behalf while you focus on caring for your child and yourself.
The Washington, DC birth injury attorneys at Paulson & Nace have decades of winning cases for clients. We are passionate about helping families protect their children. You only have a certain amount of time to file a lawsuit, so please schedule a free and confidential case evaluation by filling out our contact form or calling 202-463-1999.
Samantha L. Peters focuses her practice in the areas of medical malpractice, personal injury, wrongful death, and other negligence claims.