Shoulder Dystocia and Brachial Plexus Injury

Representing Clients in Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Macon, Savannah & throughout Georgia

Shoulder dystocia is a complication that occurs when an infant’s shoulders become stuck in the mother’s pelvis during delivery. The American Association of Family Physicians calls shoulder dystocia, “one of the most frightening emergencies in the delivery room,” while noting that “calm and effective management” is entirely possible – so long as the issue is properly diagnosed and swiftly dealt with.

Delivering physicians, midwives, and attendants are trained in special maneuvers that can be used to dislodge an infant’s shoulders without causing serious injury or harm. While these emergency delivery methods may result in containable complications, such as maternal hemorrhaging, some instances of shoulder dystocia result in damage to the brachial plexus – a network of nerves in and around the shoulder – which may cause a permanent loss of function.

If your child’s delivery was complicated by shoulder dystocia and your child sustained a permanent injury as a result, you may be entitled to compensation for all related damages. Please call the Atlanta office of Watkins, Lourie, Roll & Chance at 404-760-7400 to schedule a complimentary consultation with one of our experienced birth injury attorneys right away.

Brachial Plexus Palsy

There are four types of brachial plexus injury:

  • Neuropraxia. A stretched and damaged nerve that is not torn
  • Rupture. A torn nerve that is still attached to the spine
  • Avulsion. A nerve that is severed from the spine
  • Neuroma. An impacted nerve that cannot transmit signals

During an emergency delivery, it is possible for nerves in the armpit to move, tear, or completely detach. This often results in palsy, a type of paralysis that may be accompanied by tremors or twitches, in the affected arm.

Occurring in an estimated four to 15 percent of births, most brachial plexus injuries self-resolve over the course of 12 months. Around 10 percent of these cases, however, result in a percent loss of ability.

Erb’s Palsy

Erb’s palsy occurs when the nerves in the upper brachial plexus are permanently damaged. This condition is marked by weakness in the arm, decreased grip strength, and decreased muscle and nerve development.

Children with Erb’s palsy may have one arm that is constantly bent at the elbow. They may also experience a complete loss of function in the affected arm.

Infographic: Erb's Palsy, Causes, Treatment, Help

Klumpke’s Palsy

Klumpke’s palsy occurs when the nerves in the lower brachial plexus are permanently damaged. This brachial plexus injury is marked by an inability to use specific muscles in the shoulder or arm, atrophy or weakness in wrist and finger muscles, and complete paralysis.

Preventing Brachial Plexus Injury

Risk factors for shoulder dystocia complications include:

  • A history of shoulder dystocia during labor
  • Multiple birth delivery
  • Maternal obesity
  • Fetal macrosomia (large fetal size)
  • Prolonged labor and delivery
  • Induced labor
  • Epidural use

Risks for shoulder dystocia are also increased in women with maternal diabetes. When potential complications such as these exist, OBGYNs and others involved during pregnancy can take precautionary measures by scheduling a C-section.

In cases where shoulder dystocia is unexpected, careful and deliberate maneuvering can significantly reduce risks for serious injury and permanent damage. If your child sustained a brachial plexus injury during delivery, you may have cause to file a birth injury lawsuit and seek compensation for medical expenses. Our attorneys are here to review your case, free of both cost and obligation, to help you determine the best course forward.

Contact Watkins, Lourie, Roll & Chance

To schedule your free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys, please call 404-760-7400 today. Located in Atlanta, we fight for families living throughout Georgia.