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Liability for Erb’s Palsy in a Newborn

Who is liable when a newborn suffers from Erb’s palsy?

Erb’s palsy is a condition caused by physical injury to an infant during delivery.  Erb’s palsy is considered a form of obstetric brachial plexus disorder affecting the nerves in a child’s upper arms.  It is believed that one or two of every 1,000 babies are born with Erb’s palsy.  The severity of Erb’s palsy varies, with some infants experiencing only minor symptoms while others may suffer from partial paralysis of a limb.  Erb’s palsy will require therapy and potentially even surgery to correct, leading to medical expenses.  At times, the delivering physician will be held accountable for a newborn’s Erb’s palsy diagnosis.

Diagnosing Erb’s Palsy

One of the first signs of Erb’s palsy in a baby will be weakness in one arm. The infant may favor one arm over another or even be unable to move an arm. Other symptoms for parents to look out for include:

  • Arm numbness
  • Holding an arm limply
  • Only using one arm to reach
  • Impaired circulation
  • Less ability to grip with one arm
  • Loss of feeling on one side

Detecting Erb’s palsy in one so young can prove challenging.  As such, it is especially important for parents to understand the types of births that often give rise to palsy conditions so that parents and the child’s pediatrician can keep a close watch.

Causes of Erb’s Palsy

Erb’s palsy will generally occur in infants born from a difficult labor.  Erb’s palsy may happen when an infant is born at an awkward angle, such as with the head being turned one way while the arm is pulled in the opposite direction.  This can stretch and damage the brachial plexus nerves.  Alternatively, Erb’s palsy may develop following a face-first delivery or when the baby is larger than the birth canal.  Either scenario may lead to excessive pulling on the child’s shoulders.

Finally, Erb’s palsy may develop from a baby being delivered in a breech position.  Injury may occur to the brachial plexus nerve when the baby’s arms are pulled backwards during a breech delivery.  Other risk factors for Erb’s palsy include use of the forceps or vacuum and excessive weight gain in the mom during pregnancy.

Treating Erb’s Palsy

Treatment for Erb’s palsy may necessitate surgery in extreme cases.  Alternatively, physical therapy will be recommended for more mild cases of Erb’s palsy.  While most infants suffering from Erb’s palsy will recover within the first year, a few children persist to have permanent problems with an arm.  Not all cases of Erb’s palsy involve medical malpractice, but in instances where a doctor’s actions or inaction caused the injury, the parents of the injured newborn may have a viable cause of action.