Newborn and Infant Brachial Plexus Injuries Lawyers
No one plans for a birth injury — but when one does occur, all of the months of planning leading up to childbirth are adversely affected. While dealing with the consequences of injuries like those which affect a baby’s brachial plexus, a family’s resources are taxed and the infant’s entire future may be put into question.
The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that connect the spine to the arms and hands; infants born with an injury to this region may have lifelong difficulties in the use of their upper bodies. According to research, as many as 3 out of every 1,000 infants born in the US have brachial plexus injuries (BPI) — and 30 percent of those born with BPI will go on to have permanent neurological deficits or impairments.
What Causes Damage to the Brachial Plexus
While some BPI aren’t avoidable, the leading cause of these injuries is a doctor’s actions in facilitating a difficult birth. There are many situations which raises the risks of BPI occurring, but the damage is most frequently done by a doctor trying to force a baby through the birth canal.
Image taken from Birth Fractures and Epiphyseal Dislocations (1917)
Shoulder dystocia is the fairly common problem of the fetal shoulder becoming wedged against the mother’s pubic bone or pelvis during delivery. While shoulder dystocia won’t necessarily lead to permanent injuries for the infant or mother, it heightens the risk of birth injuries like BPI.
Damage to the brachial plexus can result from contractions pinning the baby’s shoulder against its mother’s pubic bone, or from the use of forceps, a vacuum extractor or other means of force in removing the baby from the birth canal.
Steps to Preventing Brachial Plexus Injuries
BPI prevention starts with the proper assessment of high-risk pregnancies. Risk factors include:
- Gestational diabetes
- Fetus weighing 9 pounds or more (macrosomia)
- Obesity in the mother or unusual pre-birth weight gain
- Small pelvis
- Previous history of BPI
- Fetus positioned for breech birth
During delivery, the attending doctor must accurately assess the evolving risk of BPI, and order an emergency C-section if necessary. Conditions that increase the risk of BPI include:
- Shoulder dystocia
- Prolonged labor
- Breech birth
- Slow dilation
- Baby becoming stuck in birth canal
- Use of birthing instruments
The Health Consequences of Brachial Plexus Injuries
Symptoms of BPI in a newborn include:
- Poor movement in the affected arm
- Absence of reflexes
- Claw-like hand
Image taken from Modern Diagnosis and Treatment of Diseases of Children; A Treatise on the Medical and Surgical Diseases of Infancy and Childhood (1911)
Depending on the severity of the injury — and whether the nerves are merely stretched, compressed or fully torn — BPI’s long-term prognosis varies widely. In the worst cases, it can lead to such conditions as Erb’s palsy, Horner’s syndrome, Klumpke’s palsy or the permanent loss of movement and sensation.
How to Know if Medical Negligence is Responsible for Your Infant’s Injury
To prove medical negligence, it must be clearly established that a birth injury was the result of a breach of care on the part of the attending physician. In BPI cases, this could be reflected in a lack of attention given to BPI risk factors, a delay in ordering a timely C-section or directly causing the injury while delivering the baby.
Most often, establishing medical negligence requires the testimony of an expert medical witness, able to verify that the defendants’ conduct fell short of the accepted medical standard, and that this lapse in care was responsible for the infant’s injury.
When to Consult with an Experienced Birth Injury Attorney
With birth injuries such as BPI, the best course of action is to consult with skilled attorneys like those at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt as soon as possible. Although filing suit may seem like a secondary concern when dealing with an infant’s health, both New Jersey and Pennsylvania law state that birth injury cases must be filed within two years from the date of injury — other states set their statutes of limitations as short as one year for such cases.
With 30 years of experience in cases of birth trauma, McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt is well suited to evaluate the situation and help determine if the injury suffered involved acts of medical negligence or professional malpractice. All birth injury claims are handled on a contingency basis.