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Brachial Plexus Injuries and Medical Malpractice
Serious complications can threaten the health and lives of a newborn and a mother at any point during a pregnancy. But the risks – and the potential for serious mistakes - are the highest during labor and delivery. The actions and choices made by doctors, nurses, and delivery room staff can make all the difference between a joyous occasion and a catastrophic tragedy. One of the bigger risks and more common birth injuries during delivery - and one that can cause lifelong problems for the child - is the possibility of a brachial plexus injury.
What is the Brachial Plexus?
The brachial plexus is a nerve network that extends from the neck of a newborn down through the shoulders and then to the arms and hands. It is the system that provides power to the muscles in the arms. Located as it is in the neck and shoulders, the brachial plexus is particularly susceptible to injury during childbirth.
How Do Brachial Plexus Birth Injuries Happen?
Most often, a brachial plexus injury will occur during delivery when a baby's shoulder becomes stuck on the mother's public bone during the birthing process. This condition is called shoulder dystocia, and physicians and nurses must use great care when attempting to dislodge and deliver the baby. Unfortunately, these attempts can result in too much pressure and force being applied to the child, particularly in the neck and shoulder area. When that happens, the child’s brachial plexus nerves can be stretched and damaged. Breech deliveries present similar risks.
Brachial plexus injuries occur in about 2-5 out of every 1,000 births, according to the United Brachial Plexus Network. How severe the injury will be depends on a number of factors, such as where exactly the nerves were impacted, and whether the damage was a stretch, an incomplete tear, or a complete tear, also known as avulsion. When the nerves are significantly damaged, it can cause conditions such as Erb’s Palsy and Klumpke’s Palsy.
Approximately half of brachial plexus injuries that happen during childbirth heal without any long-term damage within the first four to six weeks. But if muscle weakness or paralysis continues after that time, it could indicate a potentially serious and longer-term issue, including loss of movement, loss of sensation, or paralysis.
Can a Brachial Plexus Injury Be Caused by Medical Malpractice?
There are numerous risk factors for shoulder dystocia that can lead to a brachial plexus injury, including excessive weight gain or obesity during pregnancy, delayed delivery, gestational diabetes, a larger-than-average baby, or previous delivery of a large baby.
But doctors and nurses should be vigilant about the risks associated with shoulder dystocia and breech births and take appropriate steps to intervene and take measures to prevent injury to the child when those factors are present. If the medical professionals you entrust with the health of your baby fail to follow the appropriate standard of care and are negligent in their efforts to dislodge and deliver a baby in distress, and that negligence leads to brachial plexus injury, you may have a claim for medical malpractice.
Our experienced Tampa medical malpractice lawyers are Board-certified trial attorneys and have been recognized by the legal community for their experience and knowledge in litigating claims for persons who have been victims of serious medical errors, including birth injuries. Please contact us online to arrange for your free case evaluation.