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Brachial Plexus Injury

Baby IncubatorInfant victims of brachial plexus injury at birth, including Erb’s palsy, may be facing multiple costly surgeries and lengthy recovery periods. Medical treatment and therapies may be required for the rest of the child’s life. In some cases, the damage is both permanent and severe.

Families in Los Angeles and LA County may not know where to turn in these circumstances. Watching a child suffer may be the most painful of all parental experiences. The anguish is made worse by doubt: Why did this happen? Did the doctor do everything possible to ensure a healthy birth? Were the nurses properly trained and attentive to the mother’s needs? Was the hospital fully equipped to deal with complicated birth situations?

The Los Angeles birth injury attorneys at Ellis Law understand the complicated emotions that affect parents of a newborn with brachial plexus injury. Our skilled in-house investigators know how to locate and review the necessary medical records. Then we consult with top physicians in the field, in California or elsewhere, to determine the cause of the injury.

If your child’s Erb’s palsy or other brachial plexus injury resulted from negligence or substandard care by doctors, nurses, midwives, and/or the hospital, we can file a lawsuit on your child’s behalf to help obtain compensation for your losses.

Recovery received as a result of a birth injury lawsuit in LA can help families struggling to pay for a lifetime of treatment for a child injured due to the negligence of a medical professional. Families may also recover for the child’s pain and suffering, and, in some circumstances, his or her diminished earnings prospects.

At Ellis Law, our attorneys are committed to fighting for the rights of innocent victims. If your child has suffered a birth injury, including Erb’s Palsy or other complications from a brachial plexus injury at birth, our attorneys are available for a comprehensive, no-obligation consultation. Our success is your success—we charge no fees whatsoever unless we win your case.

The nerves of the brachial plexus

The brachial plexus is a network of nerves connecting the spinal cord to the muscles of the shoulder, elbow, and arm. These nerves may be stretched, squeezed or torn during delivery, resulting in brachial plexus injury. To prevent a loss of muscle function and subsequent paralysis, complicated surgery and follow-up may be necessary to ensure that a child has full lifetime use of his or her shoulder and arm.

Some two-thirds of brachial plexus injuries involve the upper portion of the brachial plexus. This condition, known as Erb’s palsy, leads to weakness of the infant’s shoulder, upper arm muscles, and elbow. Treatment typically begins with physical therapy when the child is three weeks old in order to prevent shoulder dislocation, atrophy and stiffness.

Sometimes physicians, midwives or nursing staff commit errors during the labor process that cause severe nerve damage to the newborn. At Ellis Law, our personal injury lawyers have decades of experience helping Los Angeles-area families affected by birth injuries, including Erb’s palsy, evaluate their legal options and successfully secure damages to cover the sometimes exorbitant costs of medical care and treatment for their child.

Types of brachial plexus injury

Doctors divide brachial plexus injury into four categories, depending on the severity of damage to the nerves.

  • Neurapraxia is the most common form. Nerves are stretched inside the spinal cord but are not broken. Infants usually recover without further treatment during their first three months.
  • Neuroma occurs when nerves have formed scar tissue that squeezes against the injured nerves or impairs functioning. Surgery may be required to reconstruct the nerve and/or perform secondary tendon transfers.
  • Avulsion refers to the tearing of nerve roots from the spinal cord. Between 10% and 20% of brachial plexus injuries involve this type of damage. The nerve to the diaphragm may be damaged, causing difficulty in breathing. Injured tissue cannot be repaired – it must be replaced by a nerve transfer. A particularly severe type, Horner’s syndrome, may be signaled by a drooping eyelid on the affected side of the infant’s body.
  • Rupture involves torn nerves in the neck, shoulder or arm. It is a common form of brachial plexus injury; surgery may be required to repair the damage.

Causes and symptoms

Brachial plexus injury occurs in roughly 2 of every 1,000 live births. Lengthy or difficult labor, the use of forceps or vacuum, breech presentation, a larger-than-usual baby, twin or multiple pregnancy, and other factors can lead to brachial plexus injury, including Erb’s palsy.

Most brachial plexus injuries occur when a baby’s shoulder becomes lodged against the mother’s pubic bone, preventing the baby from moving through the birth canal. This “shoulder dystocia” requires one or more interventions, such as the use of forceps, twisting the infant to free the shoulder, or use of a vacuum.

Any of these maneuvers may result in injuring the brachial plexus nerves or causing Erb’s palsy. Delivering the baby is of paramount importance under these circumstances, but unfortunately the techniques may sometimes be used in a substandard fashion, if physicians, midwives or nursing staff act without proper care.

At Ellis Law, attorneys experienced in Erb’s palsy and other birth injury lawsuits work closely with medical experts to determine whether an infant’s brachial plexus injury was caused by negligence. If so, multiple parties—including doctors, nurses, and the hospital—may be held liable for actions and omissions that caused harm to your child.

Infants with brachial plexus injury typically show symptoms immediately after birth.

Symptoms of brachial plexus injuries may include:

  • Failure to move the upper or lower arm
  • Arm bent at the elbow and held against the body
  • Weaker grip on the affected side of the body
  • Affected arm “flops” when newborn is rolled from side to side
  • Absence of Moro reflex on the affected side

Treatment

Most brachial plexus injuries will heal by themselves within the first three months of a baby’s life. Sometimes physicians will recommend gentle massages and simple range-of-motion exercises to help newborns achieve full function. In more severe cases, sophisticated physical therapy may be warranted, to prevent shoulder dislocation and/or deformity.

Infants whose symptoms continue after six months of age may require surgery. Surgical treatments may include nerve grafts, nerve transfers, tendon transfers, surgical tightening of the tissue around the shoulder joint (capsulorraphy), cutting and reorienting of the bones (osteotomy), and transfer of muscles from the legs into the shoulder or arm.

In some cases surgery fails to alleviate the injury. Victims may experience abnormal muscle contractions for the rest of their lives. In other cases, brachial plexus injuries may result in permanent loss of function of the affected nerves, arm weakness, or paralysis.

Los Angeles birth injury lawyers at Ellis Law can help

If your child suffers from brachial plexus injury or Erb’s palsy, we encourage you to contact our birth injury lawyers for a free consultation. We will discuss your child’s condition and review your individual circumstances to help you determine whether a lawsuit is the right course.

If you decide to pursue a claim, we will use all our resources to help you get the compensation you deserve. Please contact us at 1-800-INJURED or in Los Angeles at (310) 641-3335.

  1. Boston Children’s Hospital, “About Brachial Plexus Birth Palsy,” http://www.childrenshospital.org/centers-and-services/programs/a-_-e/brachial-plexus-program/about-brachial-plexus-birth-palsy
  2. United Brachial Plexus Network, Inc., “What is a Brachial Plexus Injury?” http://www.ubpn.org/?option=com_content&view=article&id=106&Itemid=91 
  3. National Library of Medicine, MedLine Plus, “Brachial plexus injury in newborns,” http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001395.htm