Birth trauma refers to damage of the tissues and organs of a newborn baby. Although many newborns might have minor injuries during birth, sometimes the injuries are more severe and include serious nerve damage. Brachial plexus birth injuries refers to damage to the brachial plexus nerves that occurs at birth, and may be related to a difficult labor and delivery.
The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that begins at the spinal cord in the neck and delivers messages from the brain to the shoulder, arm and hand. These nerves control muscle function in the chest, shoulders, arms and hands, as well as sensation in the upper limbs. A brachial plexus birth injury occurs when the baby’s neck is stretched, compressed, or awkwardly twisted. A quick or emergency delivery resulting in the baby being forcibly pulled out can result in a brachial plexus injury. The nerves may stretch or tear during a traumatic delivery. Although nerves have some ability to heal on their own, it depends on the severity of the damage.
The most common type of brachial plexus injury is called Erb’s palsy. Babies with a brachial plexus injury may have difficulty moving their arm or lack feeling in their arm. Damaged nerves may result in symptoms from minor weakness to partial or complete paralysis depending on the severity of the injury. A less common injury that affects the lower brachial plexus is called Klumpke’s palsy. This typically affects only the muscles in the hand and is not common in babies.
Four types of brachial plexus nerve injuries
Neuropraxia – This is a stretch injury and is the most common. The nerve is stretched but not torn. These injuries will typically heal on their own in time.
Neuroma – This is a more serious stretch injury that damages nerve fibers and results in scar tissue. The scar tissue may press on the healthy nerve and create discomfort. Long-term recovery is typically only partial, not complete.
Rupture – This a stretch injury that tears or ruptures the nerve. This type of injury will not heal on its own. Surgery is required to re-attach the nerves.
Avulsion – This type of injury is the most severe type of nerve damage and occurs when the nerve fiber is torn from the spinal cord.
For severe brachial plexus injuries, prompt surgical treatment might be needed to attempt to regain function. Without it, permanent disability may occur. In the most severe cases, the damage may be permanent. Chronic pain can also be a long-term result of a brachial plexus injury.
Erb’s Palsy birth injury
Erb’s palsy may occur during delivery when excessive pressure is put on the baby’s head, neck or shoulder because of difficulty delivering. The symptoms of brachial plexus injury can vary based on severity and extent of damage. Erb’s palsy is the result of the upper brachial plexus being paralyzed. The risk of a baby developing Erb’s palsy is greatly increased if they develop shoulder dystocia during delivery. Shoulder dystocia is a condition where the baby comes through the birth canal at an awkward angle and a shoulder becomes stuck on the mother’s pelvis. Erb’s palsy can include paralysis or limpness in a baby’s arm, limited or no movement in hands and fingers, and loss of sensation in hands and fingers.
Symptoms of Erb’s Palsy
Weakness or numbness in arm.
Limited motion in the shoulder, arm, wrist or hand.
Arm hanging by side and rotated inward.
Partial or total paralysis of the arm.
Potential Causes of Erb’s Palsy / Brachial Plexus Injuries
As we mentioned above, brachial plexus nerve injuries typically occur with traumatic or difficult deliveries. This may include a large baby, a breech birth or prolonged labor. A doctor delivering quickly may use excessive force to pull the baby from the birth canal resulting in a stretching of the baby’s neck. This can also result from excessive pulling on the shoulders during a head-first delivery, or by pressure on the infant’s raised arms during a feet-first delivery. Risk factors associated with brachial plexus injuries include improper use of birthing or extraction tools, prolonged labor, breech delivery, large baby, small or abnormal maternal pelvis shape or excessive maternal weight gain.
A baby’s arm that is limp can usually indicate a brachial plexus injury. Proper diagnosis requires a complete neurological exam to determine which nerves have been impacted and the severity of the injury. Treatment may include anything from physical therapy to improve movement in the muscles and nerves or occupational therapy to improve joint function and muscle tone to surgery in the most severe cases.
Brachial Plexus injuries during childbirth
The main cause of Erb’s palsy is damage to the nerves during childbirth. Brachial plexus injuries are avoidable. An obstetrician must proceed with extreme caution when risk factors are present during delivery. For instance, failure to recognize that a caesarean section should have been performed due to the baby’s size, use of excessive force or pressure on the baby’s head, neck, or shoulder during delivery, or improper use of delivery instruments, such as forceps or vacuum extractors, may indicate an error on the part of the doctor.
Often, Erb’s Palsy injuries are the result of preventable medical errors during delivery. Medical professionals have a duty to ensure you and your baby are provided a certain standard of care. Birth injuries may come with lifelong limitations for your child, crippling medical costs, and lasting emotional stress. If your infant has suffered a brachial plexus injury or has been diagnosed with Erb’s Palsy that you believe may have been caused by medical negligence, you should consult with an experienced birth injury attorney to explore your options and help recover compensation for your child’s injuries. The Distasio & Kowalski birth injury attorneys have seen the toll birth injuries can take on a family and we are here to help.
A medical error is a preventable adverse effect of medical care, whether or not it is evident or harmful to the patient. A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins medicine said that medical errors should rank as the third leading cause of death in the United States. Hard to imagine, we know. Highlighted by the report was a failure to accurately track vital statistics, which hindered research on the subject and more accurate reporting. Researchers called for more detailed coding on death certificates. The hope is to more accurately capture if a medical error is the cause.
This lack of detailed accounting on both injuries and fatalities as a result of medical error and medical mistakes, has led to this very real problem not getting the focus it deserves. Patient safety needs to be a top priority of our healthcare system and legislatures. No one expects to seek medical attention and experience further harm as a result. A sad fact is that it can and does happen. Read on to learn about many types of medical errors that can occur.
Common medical errors
Misdiagnosis – An error in diagnosis or delayed diagnosis is the most common type of medical error. Often, a speedy and accurate diagnosis is
Physicians performing surgery
essential in starting a proper course of treatment. A wrong diagnosis can cause a dangerous and sometimes fatal delay in treatment.
Surgical errors – We’ve all heard horror stories of wrong site surgeries, or even of surgeons operating on the wrong patient. There are many surgical errors that are a result of medical negligence. An example of this is leaving objects, such as surgical sponges or even medical instruments inside a patient’s body after surgery. Puncturing an organ or causing an infection due to a surgical error are other problems that can lead to serious injury, as is failing to properly monitor vital signs. Surgical errors can lead to a devastating outcome for a patient.
Anesthesia errors – One of the most serious medical malpractice injuries can come from a negligent anesthesia error. This can sometimes result in brain damage, coma or death before action can be taken. More specifically, anesthesia errors can result in stroke, heart attack, asphyxia, brain injury, birth defects and many more injuries. Giving the wrong dosage of anesthesia, failing to monitor the patient properly, failing to properly administer oxygen or failing to recognize complications are just a few of the anesthesia errors that occur.
Medication errors – Medication and other prescription errors can occur at many different stages in the medication prescribing and dispensing process. For instance, an error could be made in ordering or prescribing or in entering the information into a computer. Medication mistakes can also happen when the drug is dispensed or administered or in monitoring the patient. According to the FDA, they receive more than 100,000 reports in the U.S. each year associated with a suspected medication error. Medication errors could result in a variety of injuries from birth defects to adverse reaction, life threatening conditions, disability and even fatality.
Errors due to lack of communication – Medical errors and injury may result from the lack of proper communication and coordination between healthcare providers. It can also be a result of lack of communication between a doctor and a patient. Good communication is essential between all parties involved in medical treatment. This is a very preventable medical error that can lead to serious harm.
Failure to properly monitor a patient – Failure to monitor could lead to missed medical warning signs. This may result in valuable time lost in properly treating a patient. It may even result in irreversible injury. Monitoring is essential in medical care.
Lab errors – Failure to properly read test results can lead to a wrong diagnosis and wrong treatment. This can lead to a dangerous delay in properly treating a medical condition. Errors in testing, reading tests and in communicating results can all cause harm.
Medical equipment malfunction – Medical equipment that is not kept in good working order can cause serious harm or possibly death. An example of this might include a case of a malfunctioning defibrillator.
Blood transfusions errors – Blood transfusions are high-risk procedures. Errors can occur during the transfusion process. They can occur when identifying a patient, in blood typing, in failing to test for contamination in blood or in failing to recognize a blood transfusion reaction.
Birth injuries as a result of medical errors – Every year, tens of thousands of birth injuries occur in the U.S. Birth injuries can include traumatic brain injury or other brain injuries and oxygen deprivation among other errors. A failure to anticipate complications or to diagnose an ailment could be life threatening. Birth injuries that can be caused by medical errors include Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy or HIE. Cerebral Palsy, and Erb’s Palsy/Shoulder Dystocia are other examples of birth injuries. Medical errors resulting in birth injuries can include a failure to detect fetal distress or a delayed cesarean section. They can also include a delay in diagnosis or the improper use of birthing tools among other errors. Birth errors can have a lifelong impact on children and families.
How can patients better protect themselves from certain medical errors?
The sad truth is that many medical errors are often preventable. Medical mistakes are frequently the result of carelessness on the part of a doctor or another medical professional or healthcare provider. Here are five ways you can protect yourself.
Be assertive and ask questions – Don’t be afraid to ask. You will want to know the risks and disadvantages of various procedures, side effects of medication and other treatments, etc..
Bring along an advocate – It sometimes gets confusing, and having a family member or friend with you at an appointment can help.
Watch for signs of medical staff fatigue in an understaffed health care facility.
Make sure all medical providers know all of the medication you are taking. Alert them to medication allergies and reactions as well.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion.
When errors are made in the medical profession, they can result in serious and sometimes fatal consequences. For medical malpractice to be considered in a case, the following must have occurred: harm was suffered by a patient as the result of a medical professional failing to provide a standard of care that other medical professionals would have provided under the same circumstances. If you believe you have been injured by a medical error, it’s important to act quickly to protect your legal rights. Speak to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer who can evaluate the circumstances of your case. A knowledgeable medical injury lawyer can tell you if you have a medical malpractice case.
It’s usually one of the happiest times of a couple’s lives. Expectant parents anxiously preparing and awaiting the birth of a new baby. Tragically, excitement can quickly turn to heartbreak for parents when something goes wrong and an infant is born injured or suffering in some way. It’s an important time to be sure you understand the difference between a birth injury and a birth defect. While this is a confusing time for new parents, filled with a mix of emotions, it is important to determine the cause of your baby’s suffering. Knowing the difference between a birth injury and a birth defect can be very important in determining if there was any medical negligence involved in harm caused to your baby. If there was negligence or a medical error, you may be eligible for compensation for those injuries and for ongoing medical treatment for your newborn.
What is a birth injury?
Birth injuries usually happen during or immediately after the labor and delivery process. Injuries could possibly result from excessive force or trauma during delivery. Birth injury may also result from failure to monitor the baby for fetal distress or from other medical errors or substandard care during or after the birthing process. This can include misdiagnoses or failure to diagnose potential complications during pregnancy and delivery. It may also include delayed C-section and mistakes involving forceps, vacuum or other birthing tools, among other medical errors. Unlike birth defects, birth injuries are preventable in many cases, depending on the circumstances. Right Diagnosis from healthgrades reported that 7 out of every 1,000 children born in the United States are born with birth injuries each year.
Some examples of birth injuries include:
Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy or HIE
What is a birth defect?
Birth defects occur as a baby is still developing in the mother’s womb. That’s a main difference between a birth injury and a birth defect. Birth defects are medical conditions or abnormalities that could occur as a result of a variety of causes. This can include certain genetics, infections, exposure to chemicals or drugs, or possibly unhealthy lifestyle choice. Birth defects can have serious and lasting effects on a child.
Examples of birth defects can include disorders such as brain damage, Down syndrome, spina bifida, congenital heart defect, cleft lip or palate, limb or cranial abnormalities, and metabolic disorders. The CDC estimates that birth defects affect one in every 33 babies. This is about 3 percent of all of the babies born in the United Sates each year.
What to do when your infant suffers a birth injury
Sadly, birth injuries are far too common and can mean life-long health consequences for your child. Distasio Kowalski personal injury attorneys see the tragic effects that medical errors have on the lives of families in our area. Bringing a child into the world should be a joyous event. It should not be marred by substandard medical care. Doctor’s and other healthcare providers have a “duty of care” to uphold when treating patients. If they fail to provide that established standard of care, they can be held liable for injuries that occur. It’s time to call an injury attorney.
Getting legal help for birth injuries
We hope this helps you to better understand the difference between a birth injury and a birth defect. If you suspect that your newborn may have been injured as the result of medical negligence or a medical error, you should consult with a medical malpractice attorney. Although you are emotional and overwhelmed when you are dealing with a seriously injured child, you owe it to yourself and your family to determine the cause of the injuries. You want to hold the responsible party accountable. You also want to ensure that the long-term medical and emotional needs of your child are met. An experienced personal injury lawyer will be able to assess your situation and help you explore your legal options.
Medical negligence can lead to birth injury or the death of a child. A birth injury can affect the quality of life of a child, as well as an entire family, resulting in a lifetime of medical treatment and financial hardship. It’s imperative that an experienced birth injury attorney determines if your child is suffering from a preventable birth injury or unavoidable birth defect.
Statute of limitations for birth injury cases in Pennsylvania
The statute of limitations is a time period in which you can legally file your birth injury claim. In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for a medical malpractice suit is two years. However, when the patient is a minor, the Minor’s Tolling Statute allows for added time if the patient is under the age of 18. The two-year time limit would begin to run on the child’s 18th birthday.
For more information on your legal options in a birth injury case, contact the Wilkes-Barre personal injury lawyers at Distasio Kowalski toll free at 855-970-5400.