Brachial Plexus Injuries During Delivery: Why Do They Happen And When Could An Obstetrician Be Liable For Causing The Injury?
While brachial plexus birth injuries are fairly uncommon, they can have life-long consequences. The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that originates at the base of the neck and extends towards the arms. These nerves are fragile and they can be damaged easily while trying to reposition a baby during a complicated delivery.
Damage to the brachial plexus nerves results in arm paralysis, and severe brachial plexus injuries can be permanent. If your baby suffered brachial plexus injury during delivery, read on to learn more about how the injury could have happened and when an obstetrician may be legally liable for causing it.
What Causes a Brachial Plexus Birth Injury?
Brachial plexus injuries occur when the baby's shoulder can't move past the mother's pelvis during delivery. This situation is known as shoulder dystocia, and it's a medical emergency. In order for the delivery to be successful, the obstetrician will need to shift the baby so that their shoulders can successfully move past the mother's pelvis.
If the obstetrician uses too much force when attempting to reposition the baby, then it can cause the baby to suffer a brachial plexus injury. Turning the baby's head sharply or forcefully moving the baby's shoulder while shifting its position can damage the nerves. In mild cases of brachial plexus injury, the nerves are simply stretched too far, which causes slight damage and inflammation. The baby's affected arm may be paralyzed for a few months, but the nerves will be able to heal on their own.
In severe brachial plexus injuries, however, the nerves in the brachial plexus may rupture. They can also be pulled out of the spinal cord entirely, which is called a nerve root avulsion. In these cases, the nerves aren't able to heal on their own, and the baby's arm will be permanently paralyzed without prompt surgical intervention to repair the severed nerves.
When Could an Obstetrician Be Liable for Causing a Brachial Plexus Injury?
Brachial plexus birth injuries can't happen naturally due to the amount of force required to damage the nerves in the brachial plexus, so they're always a result of the obstetrician shifting the baby during delivery. However, this doesn't mean that the obstetrician is automatically liable for a brachial plexus injury that occurs.
Birth injury cases attempt to prove that a health care provider was negligent in meeting the standard of care that is required by their profession. Successfully delivering a baby in a shoulder dystocia requires gentle movements and repositioning in order to avoid injuring the nerves in the baby's brachial plexus. If excessive force was used due to the obstetrician panicking or rushing the delivery, then it's possible that they may be found negligent and become liable for the brachial plexus injury.
Additionally, obstetricians typically have the option of performing an emergency cesarean section instead of continuing with a natural birth. Performing an emergency C-section has its own risks, but it may be preferable if the baby can't be delivered naturally without risking damage to their brachial plexus. If this option was not considered during delivery and the baby suffered a brachial plexus birth injury as a result, then the obstetrician may have been negligent in providing the required standard of care.
If your baby suffered a brachial plexus injury during a complicated delivery, speak to a birth injury lawyer in your area about your case. A birth injury lawyer can review your medical records to determine whether or not the obstetrician may have been negligent in providing the standard of care that's required of them. In a medical malpractice suit, you're able to seek compensation from the obstetrician that can help pay medical bills related to caring for your child's brachial plexus injury.
Since brachial plexus injuries can sometimes be permanent and require life-long care, seeking compensation for your child's injury can help continue paying for the care they require as a result of their injury for the rest of their lives. For more information, contact a birth injury lawyer.