Erb's Palsy compensation claims


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Raising and caring for a child that has Erb’s Palsy can be both emotionally and financially difficult.

If your child suffers from Erb’s Palsy then CL Legal could help to make things a little easier by guiding you through the process of making a medical negligence compensation claim to get the support you are entitled to.

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What is Erb’s Palsy?

Erb’s Palsy is a birth injury that happens when the nerves located in the upper arm of the baby are damaged. It is also known as brachial plexus paralysis or disorder, and affects roughly two put of every 1,000 babies born in the UK.

The injury is called Erb’s Palsy as it is normally the result of a lesion at the area of the baby’s neck known as Erb’s point – where the fifth and sixth cranial nerves meet and merge to form the upper point of the brachial plexus.

These nerves allow for feeling and movement in the newborn baby’s arm, hand and fingers, and sufferers may not be able to move their shoulder or upper part of their arm. Babies that have Erb’s Palsy can often give the impression that their whole arm is completely paralyzed as the condition inhibits the messages from the spinal cord to the arm, wrist, hand and fingers.

Erb’s Palsy commonly only refers to damage to the upper nerves of the brachial plexus. If there is also damage to the lower nerves of the brachial plexus then this can lead to a more serious condition known as global or total brachial plexus palsy.

What causes Erb’s Palsy?

Erb’s Palsy is most commonly associated with a difficult labour, and can occur in three different ways.

First, the brachial plexus nerves can be damages as the baby passes through the birth canal at an awkward or uncomfortable angle with the arm being pulled in the opposite direction to the head. Erb’s Palsy can also occur due to excessive pulling of the shoulders during a cephalic presentation (when the baby is delivered face-first). Both of these causes can be caused by what is known as cephalo-pelvic disproportion – when the baby is too big for the birth canal.

Thirdly, Erb’s Palsy can happen during a breech birth. This can cause stress and pressure on the brachial plexus nerves as the baby’s arms are pulled backwards over it’s head as it is delivered leg first. Breech births can lead to the baby being violently stretched and in some cases shoulders can be dislocated.

The development of Erb’s Palsy could be seen as a case of medical negligence if the doctor, nurse or midwife treating you failed to:

  • Use the correct tools and/or force during labour
  • Tell you about the possible risks of birth injuries
  • Check for and acknowledge signs that can cause Erb’s Palsy
  • Refer you for a caesarean section in the event of a problematic birth
  • Take the necessary steps to move your baby out of a trapped position

What are the symptoms of Erb’s Palsy?

A classic sign that your baby has Erb’s Palsy is if the elbow does not bend and the hand is in a backwards position i.e. a ‘waiter’s tip’ position pointing backwards.

Other signs of the nerve damage causing weakness or paralysis in the arm or hand are a limp hand and there could be an associated case of Horner’s syndrome – which causes the eyelid to droop  and the pupil is slightly smaller in the eye on the affected side.

The newborn baby may also have an associated Torticollis, which is where the baby naturally faces away from the affected arm and is not able to face forward for any length of time.

The most common signs and symptoms of Erb’s Palsy to look out for are:

  • A limp arm, bent at the elbow, held against the side of the body
  • A reduced ability to grip with the hand
  • Partial or full paralysis
  • A loss of mobility or sensory function in the upper arm
  • Impaired circulatory, muscular, and nervous development

What are the long term effects of Erb’s Palsy?

A long term prognosis for Erb’s Palsy depends a lot on the severity of the injuries sustained to your baby.

A mild case of Erb’s Palsy could completely clear up within three to six months with some physical therapy. Just under 80% of all Erb’s Palsy cases are usually cleared up after a year or so, as long as the correct and consistent treatment has been provided. In general terms, the younger the baby is when treatment begins, the better the results and the recovery will be.

In more severe cases the infant could have life-long problems due to Erb’s Palsy. Such severe cases of Erb’s Palsy are thankfully rare, but for those that do suffer it can mean permanent loss of function for the affected arm.

The long-term effects of Erb’s Palsy can also include emotional and psychological problems for the child, as they suffer from the lack of confidence and low self-esteem associated with the difficulty of carrying out ‘routine’ daily tasks. Children with limited function in their arm may also be excluded from activities and sports, which can compound the lack of self-esteem.

How much compensation for an Erb’s Palsy claim?

The amount of compensation payout you could be awarded in the event of a successful Erb’s Palsy claim depends on the severity of the injury and the effect it has had on yours and your baby’s day-to-day life.

The court will also take into account any special damages you have incurred e.g. extra travel costs, loss of earnings, treatment costs etc… to calculate your compensation – so providing an accurate payout estimate is not possible without first hearing the exact details of your particular case.

To find out more, read our personal injury claims payout guide or contact us now to discuss your claim in more detail.

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