Birth Injury Cases: Erb’s Palsy

Erb’s Palsy (also called Erb-Duchenne palsy, Klumpke’s palsy or brachial plexus injury) is another condition commonly caused by medical malpractice during childbirth.

Erb’s Palsy, as any parent of a child who suffers with it will know, is an injury to a cluster of shoulder nerves known as the brachial plexus. Almost invariably, the injury to the child’s brachial plexus resulted from an improper attempt to deliver a large baby naturally. In most cases, the nerve damage was caused by shoulder dystocia, in which the infant’s shoulder becomes pressured during delivery.

Erb’s Palsy caused by shoulder dystocia is especially common in larger babies. According to one research article, shoulder dystocia occurs in 1.7% of children whose birth weight is greater than 8.8 pounds.

In most cases, there will be no doubt that the Erb’s Palsy resulted from physical trauma to the child’s shoulder during childbirth. The only questions will be whether the obstetrician should have anticipated the shoulder dystocia that caused the nerve damage and whether, once the shoulder dystocia occurred, the obstetrician properly managed it for the rest of childbirth.

There are a variety of different techniques that can be used to manage shoulder dystocia during childbirth, including: 1. the application of suprpubic pressure; 2. the so-called McRoberts maneuvers (bringing the mother’s legs up to her abdomen); 3. the Woods corkscrew maneuvers; 4. emergency cesarean section; 5. deliberate prophylactic fracture of the child’s clavicle. These techniques, either in isolation or combination, very often can help avoid nerve injury serious enough to cause Erb’s Palsy. In fact, Erb’s Palsy is becoming increasingly rare due to improvements in childbirth techniques.

Signs that your child suffered a brachial plexus injury during childbirth are often easy to diagnose. A child with a brachial plexus injury will be unable to move part or whole of his or her hand or arm. The child will also likely keep the affected arm or hand close to her body. Lastly, a child with brachial plexus damage will be unable to exhibit the “Moro reflex” – throwing her arms above her head if she fears that she if falling.

If the obstetrician who delivered your child either failed to anticipate shoulder dystocia or failed to manage it properly once it became obvious, your child will most likely be compensated for his or her Erb’s Palsy.

You can read more about Erb’s Palsy at PubMed here.