Brachial plexus birth injuries affect one to two babies per 1,000 born in the United States. This type of injury occurs most frequently during a long, difficult delivery, and in many cases, it’s a result of negligence by physicians or other healthcare professionals. If your baby endured a brachial plexus injury and you suspect medical negligence caused it, you have the option to file a brachial plexus lawsuit and sue the responsible party.
How Did My Infant Get a Brachial Plexus Birth Injury?
One cause of a brachial plexus injury is the infant being lodged in mother’s pelvic area. A doctor may not notice that the baby’s shoulder is trapped against the mother’s pelvic bone and may rush to extract the infant before the umbilical cord gets compressed inside the birth canal. If a doctor uses excessive force to get the baby out, the network of nerves that links the spinal cord to the infant’s neck, shoulder, arm, hand, and fingers can be injured.
Applying too much pressure on a baby’s head and neck to speed up the birth process causes rips, tears, and nerve damage. This technique is not recommended, but some doctors, especially those with little obstetric experience and poor decision-making skills, still use it.
In other cases, such as a breech birth or if the monitors show signs of fetal distress, a doctor has to use a vacuum or forceps to deliver the baby safely. However, if the doctor or other hospital staff member doesn’t use the vacuum or other extraction tools correctly, the baby’s skull and the nerves in the neck, shoulder, and arm can suffer serious injuries.
Can Brachial Plexus Birth Injuries Be Avoided?
Most brachial plexus birth injuries can be avoided if the physician is conscientious and pays close attention on the condition of both the mother and her unborn baby. Many of the causes of birth emergencies, such as breech births, can be detected ahead of time if a doctor orders ultrasounds to determine the baby’s position in the mother’s womb.
Since babies’ birth positions can be determined around the 32nd week of a pregnancy, most obstetricians should have a contingency plan to prevent problems and make sure the baby is delivered safely.
When doctors or other hospital staff members neglect to check on the infant’s progress in the days and hours before the birth, they may be liable for any damages if the baby suffers a brachial plexus birth injury.
In a brachial plexus birth injury case, negligence may be indicated if:
- The doctor doesn’t recognize the large size of a baby in the mother’s womb
- The doctor doesn’t notice signs of the baby’s positioning
- The doctor fails to recognize signs of fetal distress
- The doctor fails to notice that the umbilical cord is compressed or trapped
- The doctor fails to order a Cesarean section at the appropriate time
- The doctor provides inadequate postnatal care to the baby
What Happens if Brachial Plexus Injuries Are Left Untreated?
The consequences of a brachial plexus birth injury depend on various factors. For example, the location of the injured nerves determines the type of condition which affects the injured infant. If the nerves on the upper half of the brachial plexus are involved, the most likely result is the onset of Erb’s palsy. If the nerves on the lower half are injured, the baby will be affected by a condition called Klumpke’s palsy.
If the baby’s nerves only suffer damage from stretching, any resulting medical condition, including Erb’s palsy, usually heals on its own within three months. More serious brachial plexus injuries take as long as two years until a child recovers completely. If tearing or rupture of the nerves in the brachial plexus occurs, the baby is likely to suffer long-lasting, perhaps permanent, medical conditions on the affected arm.
It is important to diagnose and treat brachial plexus injuries in a prompt and timely fashion, even in cases where damage to the nerves is limited. If left untreated, infants with mild levels of nerve damage may experience loss of feeling or constant pain in the affected arm. Infants with more severe nerve injuries are at risk of suffering total paralysis of the shoulder, arm, hand, and fingers.
How Can a Brachial Plexus Injury Lawsuit Help Me?
Caring for the medical needs of baby with a brachial plexus injury can be costly. Even mild cases of brachial plexus injuries may require many months of physical therapy that adds up financially over time.
A brachial plexus injury lawsuit can help you recoup the medical expenses that you have already paid out, as well was receive compensation for future medical expenses associated with your baby’s brachial plexus injury.
In addition, a brachial plexus injury holds the responsible party liable for medical mistakes and negligence. This in turn helps plays a part in helping to prevent future medical negligence and mistakes.
It’s important to note, however, that your case must be valid in order to prove your lawsuit. Most attorneys offer a free case consultation to go over the details and let you know your chances, but in general, a valid brachial injury case must prove that:
- Duty of care existed, meaning that the defendant was medically responsible for the care of your baby when the injuries occurred.
- The duty of care was breached, meaning that the defendant acted in a negligent and careless way while medically caring for your infant, and
- The breach of duty was what caused your baby’s brachial plexus injury
Will I Have to Go to Trial?
Most brachial plexus injury cases will settle out of court. Your attorney will go through many intricate details in order to establish and provide proof that the defendant caused your infant’s injuries,and in most instances, the evidence is sufficient enough for the defendant’s lawyer to negotiate a settlement.
However, there is a chance, although rare, and even after showing proof and attempting settlement negotiations, that the defendant will refuse to settle. In these unique instances, your case will more than likely to go trial.
It’s best to prepare yourself for the possibility of a trial, but to also remember that the majority of birth injury cases will settle before reaching that point.
How Long Will a Brachial Plexus Injury Lawsuit Take?
Most birth injury lawsuits take months, and even years, especially if the case goes to trial. This information is not meant to dissuade you from filing your lawsuit, but instead to prepare you for the chance that it may take longer than expected.
Brachial plexus injury attorneys, after gathering evidence, will go into what’s known as the “discovery” case of the lawsuit, where, as mentioned earlier, they will provide proof of negligence and start the negotiation process with the defendant.
The discovery phase in itself may take several months, and if by chance a settlement is not agreed upon and your case goes to trial, there is a chance that the defendants will appeal once you win your case, thus prolonging your compensation even further.
Keep these factors in mind, but rest assured that your case will not go on indefinitely, even if it feels like it’s taking forever to get justice for your baby.
How Much Compensation Will I Receive?
Compensation will depend on on several different circumstances, including the severity of the brachial plexus injury, where the injury is located on the body, and costs associated with treatment and medication. Therefore, it’s difficult to ascertain the exact amount you’ll receive.
In general, once you win your case, you can expect compensation for:
- Medical expenses, which include past and future costs
- Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and rehabilitation expenses
- In-home care, if needed, to help assist and medically care for your infant
- Lost wages, if you’ve left work or reduced hours to help medically care for your infant
- Emotional anguish, although this can vary according to the state you live in
In addition to economic and non-economic damages, you may be able to win punitive damages as a result of a successful lawsuit. Punitive damages are intended as a form of punishment for a defendant who has acted in a willful and extremely reckless manner.
For example, if doctors perform a medical procedure that they know is injuring the infant, yet they continue on without regards to how its affecting the baby, you may be eligible for punitive damages. Punitive damages are typically sought during a trial, and the judge and/or jury is usually responsible for determining the amount of compensation you’ll get.
Keep in mind, however, that not all states allow punitive damages in medical malpractice cases. Your lawyer should be able to provide you with additional details on punitive damages laws in your state.