What is Erb’s Palsy?

Erb’s Palsy, also known as brachial plexus palsy, occurs when damage is sustained to the brachial plexus nerve system. This often occurs at birth. The extent of palsy can differ from mild to severe. In mild cases, the nerve system can be bruised and recover over time with minimal treatment. However, if there is significant damage, including tearing or hyperextension of the nerves, this can lead to life-long disability, including paralysis of the limb. At birth, the limb affected tends to be floppy and may even look out of position. If the palsy is mild, physiotherapy may be all that is required. Surgery can help in more severe cases, but often there is some permanent damage. Early identification and intervention are crucial to limit the effects of the injury.

What can cause Erb’s Palsy?

Erb’s Palsy in children usually happens at birth. In a natural delivery, issues with the baby’s positioning in labour and journey through the birth canal can result in the baby getting ‘stuck’ and requiring a lot of pressure and traction to deliver. The traumatic force downward on the upper arm and shoulder causes damage to the brachial plexus.

What are the risks of Erb’s palsy?

The risk of Erb’s Palsy is increased with certain factors and should be identified and considered when discussing delivery options with the mother. These include previous shoulder dystocia experienced in a previous delivery, diabetes, high BMI, induced labour, assisted delivery (such as ventouse or forceps), and a large baby.

A child’s positioning and size are to be monitored regularly through pregnancy, particularly in the later stages. There may be clear signs that a natural delivery will be difficult and as such, arguably, a caesarean section should be offered to minimise the risk to the baby and the mother.

Positioning in labour delivery

During natural labour the situation for the baby can change quickly. For example, prolonged labour could lead to the mother and baby becoming very tired and requiring assistance for delivery either by way of emergency caesarean section or instrumental delivery. Again, monitoring of baby and mother is essential to identify the possibility of difficulties early which allows time for interventional measures to take place. A matter of minutes can be all it takes.

For example, during birth a baby could change position during delivery meaning the presentation does not allow a simple natural birth. The baby can become distressed, and delivery is then required urgently to save the child. However, despite this urgency, some manoeuvres can be undertaken to turn the child to allow traction to be applied without damage. A trained midwife or obstetrician should be able to identify the problem, apply these manoeuvres, and allow the natural pushing of the mother to deliver the baby safely in many instances. This can take a very short time, such as a few minutes, if applied correctly.

Can I claim for medical negligence?

To bring a successful claim for these injuries requires both a breach of duty (i.e. that unreasonable care was provided) and causation (i.e. that the injury would not have occurred if not for the breach). There are of course occasions where the palsy can be unavoidable and in which case, compensation could not be claimed.

However, there are of course unavoidable injuries. Examples of negligence vary. These can include failure to properly plan for delivery before labour, such as failure to identify a large baby in ratio to the mother’s cervical canal. There can be a failure to undertake the necessary manoeuvres to try and turn the baby allowing for traction to be applied with minimal risk of damage. There can be a failure to correctly use the tools and apply the right level of force during delivery. After delivery, there could be a failure to identify the palsy.

Long-term Compensation

Compensation can be obtained not only for pain and suffering but also for future treatment such as surgery and the care and assistance that may be required in the future, as well as considerations for any disadvantage in the labour market and loss of earnings the child may experience in the future if the long-term problems are severe. We know that the effect is life-long and as such we fully investigate all potential losses to ensure fair compensation.

How Can Specters help you?

It is important that you have expert lawyers to help you with your compensation claim and Specters have over 25 years of experience dealing with medical negligence claims on a no-win, no-fee basis and understand that every incident is unique, and requires a delicate, caring approach. If you feel that you may have suffered negligence, please do contact us. Our expert legal team will ensure you or your loved ones are cared for throughout every step of your medical negligence claim, providing guidance, and expertise. You can find out more information on medical negligence with Erb’s palsy and more here.