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Your guide to Erb's palsy

Baby and mother

During childbirth, complications such as shoulder dystocia can cause Erb’s Palsy, resulting in permanent severe injury and disability.

We know that Erb’s Palsy can last beyond childhood and impact on all aspects of your child’s life; their career, their ability to be a capable parent and even their psychological development and self esteem.

When something goes wrong during childbirth, there can be a long term traumatic effect upon the child and their parents. The possibility that it was caused by negligence can make this all the more difficult to come to terms with.

Why the system failed mother and baby...

We understand that what was expected to be a happy occasion was not and your child’s injury is an unexpected worry for the whole family.  Clinical negligence involving birth injuries, such as Erb’s Palsy, can be very emotional requiring empathy and understanding. 

When there has been a traumatic birth injury, seeking a full explanation requires specialist legal knowledge and experience in clinical negligence cases. The process is complex and can be long but our specialist solicitors will support you and guide you throughout.

Our expert solicitors have many years of experience in managing medical negligence cases so we can help you find out why things went wrong. Crucially, we will obtain answers and appropriate compensation to ensure your child’s future with proper care and treatment.

Did you know...

  • Up to 1% of babies – around one in 2,000 live births - are affected by Erb's Palsy.
  • Over half of children born with Erb's palsy make a complete recovery.
  • Around 30 to 35% of children affected by Erb’s Palsy regain partial nerve function.

 (Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, 2011)

What is Erb’s Palsy?

Erb’s Palsy - also known as Brachial Plexus Paralysis - occurs where the nerves of the Brachial Plexus on each side of the neck are damaged during childbirth, affecting the movement of a child’s shoulder, arm or hand.

What causes Erb’s Palsy?

Excessive force

The most common cause of Erb’s Palsy is when a baby’s shoulder becomes stuck behind the mother's pubic bone during childbirth -a condition known as “shoulder dystocia.” The baby's head emerges but the body does not follow at the next contraction.

Concern over oxygen deprivation can lead to excessive force being applied to the baby’s head in the attempt to speed up delivery. Induced or prolonged labour can also be additional factors.

Larger than average babies

Between 50–70% of injuries to the neck nerves occur in larger-than-average babies, usually weighing over 7.7 lb (3.5 kg).

Mothers with smaller pelvic openings are especially prone.

Foetal distress

Around four in ten of babies with complications associated with nerve injuries to the neck may have experienced foetal distress.

Previous births

Complications are possible if a mother has previously given birth to a child with shoulder dystocia. 

Conditions related to Erb’s Palsy

Klumpkes palsy: Another type of injury affecting different nerves, which causes weakness of the wrist and finger and of the small muscles of the hand.

Horners syndrome: Damage caused to the sympathetic nervous system often associated with injuries to nerves in the neck producing symptoms including a drooping upper eyelid, elevation of the lower lid, a constricted pupil, and the appearance of a slightly sunken eye.

Lifelong disability

Erb’s palsy can lead to lifelong disability often requiring extensive therapy and multiple corrective surgery. There will be additional psychological difficulties and financial hardship for both the parents and the child in adulthood.

Disability can increase with age leading to painful conditions, such as arthritis and problems associated with other body limbs that are used to compensate for the disability.

Erb’s Palsy – making a claim for clinical negligence

While rare, no childbirth is ever entirely without risk and complications can arise.

However, there are well established procedures in response to a baby’s shoulder becoming stuck during delivery, which an experienced clinician or midwife should be aware of and should possess the skills to administer correctly.

Both you and your baby are owed a duty of care throughout the delivery.

For a claim of negligence to succeed...

There must be  evidence to show that actions taken by a doctor or midwife:

  • Were directly or indirectly responsible for harm or injury arising from complications before, during or after the birth, or
  • There was a failure to take action before, during or after the birth, which could have prevented a birth injury.

What happens next...

We will take a detailed statement from you before we obtain all of the relevant medical records and instruct an expert obstetrician, midwife and paediatrician to report on why your child suffered Erb’s Palsy and if it arose as result of poor care.

If the evidence suggests negligence and injury, we will use the Clinical Negligence pre-action protocol to invite the defendant to accept responsibility before we take steps to issue the claim in court.

If liability is accepted, part of the final compensation payment should be paid in the interim to help with immediate care needs.

If the claim is to be contested, the case will then go to trial in order to prove that the health trust, hospital or medical professionals involved were liable.

Compensation

If the case is successfully proven in court, the amount of compensation to be awarded is determined and granted on the basis of the financial implications of lifelong disability, therapy and equipment aids.

Time Limits

The usual time limit allowed to start a claim for clinical negligence is within 3 years from the date of the injury or the date when it was first discovered an injury was the result of an action later believed to be negligent.

The rule for starting a claim of clinical negligence for a child is different.

In the case of claiming for a child, the three year time limit would begin:

  • From the date of a child’s 18th birthday.

This means a claim for clinical negligence can be made at any stage:

  • Up to the child’s 21st birthday.

How Your Legal Friend can help you..

As experienced clinical negligence specialists, we know that childbirth injuries are one of the most traumatic and life-changing experiences.

Our determination to find answers will ensure you find out “why the system has failed you and what went wrong.”

From our first conversation and throughout an often long process, Your Legal Friend is committed to ensuring we fight for the interests of you and your child, while diligently guiding you every step of the way.

We are committed to ensuring victims of clinical negligence obtain the answers they deserve, which could prevent others from suffering in a similar way.