Most people expect that their baby will be born healthy if all the signs indicated it would be. Unfortunately, there is a chance an otherwise healthy child will suffer a serious, life-altering injury during the birth process. This is sometimes caused by medical malpractice.
Two common conditions that can be caused by birth injuries are cerebral palsy and Erb’s palsy. Let’s discuss these conditions, along with some complications that have been known to cause them. If you suspect that your child’s condition may have been caused by medical malpractice, you should discuss your situation with an experienced attorney as soon as possible.
When we say, “cerebral palsy” or “CP,” we actually mean any of several disorders that affect the person’s brain function, causing tremors or muscle weakness and sometimes having profound effects on balance and movement. It ranges from mild to severe. Some people with CP have trouble speaking or can’t walk. Some have intellectual disabilities, although the majority are of normal intelligence.
In a baby, the symptoms often include delays in physical development, such as being slow to roll over, crawl, smile or talk. They may also include abnormal muscle tone causing floppiness of the limbs, poor coordination, poor posture, involuntary movements, and hearing or vision problems.
Some risk factors for cerebral palsy include:
- Maternal viruses and infections, such as chickenpox, rubella, herpes, syphilis and Zika virus
- Contact with toxic substances or harmful prescription drugs
- Certain health issues, such as seizures or thyroid problems
- Rh disease
- Pregnancy with multiples
- Breech position
- Premature birth and low birth weight
- Infections in the child, such as meningitis or encephalitis
- Severe jaundice
- Certain genetic conditions
- Seizures within a month of birth
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Bleeding in the child’s brain
- Lack of oxygen during the birth process
When the condition is caused by medical malpractice, it is often due to hypoxia, or lack of oxygen during birth. This can be caused, for example, by an unreasonable delay in performing a cesarean section birth, failure to provide the child with oxygen during birth, or a birth injury causing bleeding in the child’s brain. It can also be caused by failure to recognize and address known risk factors, prescribing inappropriate medications and other issues.
Erb’s palsy/brachial palsy
Erb’s or brachial palsy is commonly caused by an injury to the child’s brachial plexus, which is a bundle of nerves going from the spinal cord down the arm to the hands. The injury often results in the child being unable to fully flex and rotate the arm, which can be permanent if a nerve has been torn. You might observe a limpness in the child’s arm, lack of movement in the hand or fingers, or evidence of a loss of sensation in the hand or fingers of the affected arm. The child may hold the arm close to the body and appear to be unable to move it.
Treatment typically involves immobilization of the arm and physical therapy to improve function as much as possible. Surgery may also be necessary.
One situation where Erb’s or brachial palsy can occur is when the child is above average birth weight, as this can make it difficult for the child to pass through the birth canal. The child’s shoulders may become wedged, and the pressure of the mother’s body attempting to force the child through can damage the brachial plexus and also injure the mother. Sometimes, a cesarean section delivery is called for, but there may have been an unreasonable delay.
In other cases, obstetricians respond to the child becoming stuck by using forceps or vacuum extractors. If these are used with too much pressure, the brachial plexus can become overly stretched and the nerves can be torn. Indeed, any excessive force used on the child’s head, neck or shoulders can damage the brachial plexus.
We hope this discussion has been useful. If you have concerns about a possible injury to your child, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney.