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Brachial Plexus Injuries in Newborns

Brachial Plexus Palsy Injuries

When an infant is born with brachial plexus palsy and it is believed that malpractice or negligence was a direct cause of the injury, the family may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses needed to care for their injured child, as well as other damages. If your infant has been diagnosed with brachial plexus palsy, you may be able to file a lawsuit against your doctor and/or hospital to collect compensation for medical bills and other damages.

Medical Malpractice Can Cause Permanent Brachial Plexus Injuries

Medical malpractice refers to the failure of a medical professional to adhere to the level of care, skill, and treatment that other practitioners would provide in similar circumstances. Negligence can include both acts and omissions in attending to the patient, which during delivery includes both the mother and child. Although there are many causes of brachial plexus palsy, failure on the part of a doctor or staff in adhering to the standard of care expected in the medical community can put the child at risk for serious injury.

Immediate causes of permanent brachial plexus injuries include:

Failure to Prevent Shoulder Lodging: Brachial plexus palsy can develop in both vaginal and Cesarean births, as the shoulder becomes lodged against the mother’s pelvic bone, necessitating special care in the delivery of the child. Childbirth is a complicated and often unpredictable process and doctors are often faced with problems that require split-second decisions. Unfortunately, in some cases, doctors make the wrong decision or one that would not be chosen by other physicians in their position. To prevent injury, obstetricians should be familiar with a number of techniques to avoid complications and shoulder lodging.

Excessive Pressure on the Infant’s Head: During difficult childbirths, shoulder dystocia – the lodging of the child’s shoulder against the mother’s pubic bone – may occur. If this happens, doctors may attempt to deliver the baby by applying excessive pressure to the child’s head and shoulders, causing ripping, tearing, and nerve damage. Doctors who are experienced in delivering newborns should have knowledge of techniques that are better suited and safer for the delivery of the child.

Improper Use of Vacuums: In some instances, birth complications such as misalignment, breech birth positioning, problems pushing naturally, problems concerning vital signs in the infant, or extended labor require doctors to use a vacuum to ensure a safe delivery. Doctors and hospital staff should be well-versed in the use of vacuums and be able to determine when their use is necessary. Vacuums, if used improperly, can cause damage to the infant’s delicate skull and cause nerve damage in the neck and shoulders.

Improper Use of Forceps: In some cases, mothers may have difficulties delivering the child on their own, necessitating the use of forceps. Forceps clamp down on the child’s skull and help guide them through the birth canal in instances where the child is misaligned or breached. Given the delicate nature of an infant’s skull, special care must be taken by attending physicians to avoid injury to the child. When used correctly, forceps can help to safely deliver the child and prevent complications such as hypoxia and oxygen loss; however, if the tool is used improperly, it can cause brain and nerve damage. Additionally, applying too much pressure can cause the neck and shoulders to strain, and may contribute to the development of brachial plexus palsy.

Breech Births: In nearly 97 percent of cases, babies are positioned to be birthed head-first. By the eighth month of gestation, doctors can determine if the child is poised for a breech birth, where they are delivered feet-first, rather than head-first. In some cases, an ultrasound is necessary to determine the positioning of the child. In these instances, doctors should typically take preventative precautions and prepare a birthing plan that ensures the safest possible delivery of the child. When a breech birth occurs, it can cause extreme pressure and stress on the child’s neck, head, and shoulders. Failure to properly prepare for the delivery of a breached child could be considered medical malpractice.

Brachial plexus palsy is a condition that can be anticipated and potentially prevented if a doctor’s full attention is given to the case. When a doctor fails to monitor the child in the hours and days leading up to the birth, and the child is injured as a result, he or she may be liable for any resulting damages.

Money Damages You Can Recover in a Birth Injury Lawsuit

Monetary damages may be awarded in cases where medical malpractice resulted in a child’s severe birth injury. These damages can cover intangible losses, as well as current and future medical expenses related to the child’s injury. These damages may cover:

  • Formal physical therapy;

  • Physiotherapy including exercise;

  • Monthly follow-ups with clinicians;

  • Medical equipment such as splinting to provide the child with a necessary level of comfort and to prevent further complications;

  • Possible nerve reconstruction, reconnection, graft, or muscle transfer surgeries;

  • Preoperative magnetic resonance imaging;

  • Pain management and anti-depressant medications;

  • Future loss of income due to disability; and

  • Pain and suffering.

Birth injuries can lead to long-term pain and injury, and while many are working on ways to help, it is still a major source of physical, financial, and emotional stress for a family.

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