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5 Common Birth Injuries Caused by Malpractice

Posted November 29, 2015 | Birth Injury,Medical Malpractice

Malpractice occurs when a patient is injured or killed because a doctor fails to take the normal precautions that another doctor would take under the same set of circumstances. Malpractice can occur during all sorts of medical procedures, ranging from complex brain surgery to basic physical exams, and can be committed by all different types of medical professionals, including nurses, dentists, and anesthesiologists. While we often think of doctor negligence as an issue which affects children or adults, infants can also become victims of malpractice if the mother’s OB/GYN makes a mistake. In this article, Philadelphia medical malpractice attorney Brent Wieand will explain how and why five common birth-related malpractice injuries occur – and what to do afterward.

Congenital Cerebral Palsy (CP): Causes and Warning Signs

“Cerebral” refers to the brain, while “palsy” refers to muscular weakness or lack of control. Putting the two together, cerebral palsy (CP) is lack of muscular control caused by brain damage or abnormal brain development.

Medical stethoscope and syringe

CP and its effects can range from mild to severe, depending on the extent and location of the damage to the infant’s brain tissue. In severe cases, CP is a disabling condition whose effects include:

  • Difficulty breathing, which may necessitate a ventilator machine.
  • Difficulty chewing and swallowing, which can also cause digestive problems.
  • Partial or total paralysis, which necessitates a wheelchair or crutches.
  • Poor control of motor skills, such as holding a crayon or tying a pair of shoes.
  • Urinary and/or fecal incontinence.

CP is alarmingly prevalent in the United States. The CDC reports that CP is the number one most common childhood motor (motion) disability, with about 8,000 to 10,000 babies diagnosed each year. Most of these cases – about 80% – are categorized as spastic CP. The three other forms of CP are known as:

  • Ataxic CP
  • Dyskinetic CP
  • Mixed CP

CP which occurs during birth is described as “congenital.” Some common OB/GYN errors which can cause congenital CP include:

  • Delaying a C-section (cesarean section).
  • Failing to detect and correct a prolapsed umbilical cord.
  • Failing to monitor the baby’s vital signs.
  • Using too much force during delivery (e.g. pulling too hard with forceps).

Warning signs of CP in babies less than six months old include:

  • Feeling unusually stiff or floppy in your arms.
  • Frequently extending his or her neck and/or back.
  • The baby’s head flops passively when you pick him or her up.
  • The baby’s legs stiffen or cross when you pick him or her up.

In babies who are six months to one year old, warning signs of CP include:

  • Difficulty rolling from side to side.
  • Difficulty clapping or joining the hands together.
  • Reaching for things with only one hand.

How Erb’s Palsy and Brachial Plexus Injuries (BPI) Occur During Birth

Like CP, Erb’s palsy affects muscular control. However, Erb’s palsy results from damage to the baby’s upper arm and shoulders. Using too much physical force on this region during delivery can tear an area called Erb’s point. As such, Erb’s palsy is usually associated with shoulder dystocia, a specific kind of dystocia (obstructed labor) where the baby’s shoulders have trouble emerging after the head is delivered. Other causes of Erb’s palsy include:

  • Overmedication with labor-inducing drugs.
  • Failing to note and plan around the mother’s history of dystocia, where present.
  • Rushing or delaying the induction of labor.

A baby who has Erb’s palsy will not be able to completely lift the affected shoulder and/or arm, which will appear rotated inward toward the body. The arm may be completely paralyzed. The baby may or may not be able to use his or her wrists, hands, and fingers. In some cases, the baby may have a drooping eyelid on the affected side of his or her body, which is called ptosis. Ptosis is a warning sign of Horner’s Syndrome, which is caused by nerve damage.

If the brachial (shoulder) nerves are stretched, they will usually heal on their own within six to 12 months, though expensive corrective surgery is required in some cases. In those rare cases where the nerves are completely separated from the spinal cord, which is called avulsion, they will not be able to heal on their own. Avulsion is the most serious type of nerve injury.

doctor in a mask

Erb’s palsy is one of several brachial plexus injuries (BPI) which can be caused by doctor error during the birthing process. The term “brachial plexus” describes an elaborate network of nerves in the shoulder, upper arm, and neck area. Other common types of BPI include:

Axonotmesis – The nerve axons (nerve fibers) are completely severed, resulting in paralysis. (The axon, which is the long, skinny part of a nerve cell, is responsible for transmitting nerve impulses.)
Klumpke’s Palsy/Paralysis – Paralysis of the hand and forearm resulting from damage to the T1 (trunk/thoracic spinal) and C8 (neck/cervical spinal) nerves.
Neuroma – Scar tissue forms on a damaged nerve, which blocks the nerve from properly transmitting signals between the spinal cord and hand/arm/shoulder.

If you suspect your doctor hurt your baby, or if you were injured by your OB/GYN’s careless mistake while giving birth, you may be entitled to compensation for your family’s pain, suffering, and financial losses. Call birth injury attorney Brent Wieand at (877) 654-3887 for a free, completely confidential, no-obligation consultation. Brent will help you understand and exercise your legal rights as an injury victim in Pennsylvania or New Jersey.

***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes. It is not legal advice and should not be used as legal advice. Brent’s law office is located in Philadelphia, PA, and serves clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. So if you need a birth injury lawyer in Montgomery County, Chester County or Delaware County call today.***