Erb’s Palsy Causes

Erb’s palsy is often the result of an injury at birth that damages the brachial plexus, a network of nerves located in the spinal cord, back, and neck. In some cases, this nerve damage may be caused by medical malpractice or negligence.

If your child suffered harm due to a medical error that occurred before, during, or following delivery, you may be able to pursue compensation for their injuries — and Sokolove Law may be able to help.

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Causes of Erb’s Palsy in Newborns and Babies

Also known as brachial plexus birth palsy, Erb’s palsy is caused by an injury to the brachial plexus nerves around the child’s neck and back. Damaging these nerves can lead to weakness or paralysis in the baby’s shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers.

During the birthing process, there are a number of ways that the child’s brachial plexus nerves can be stretched or torn and cause Erb’s palsy. What many don’t realize, however, is that these birth injuries may have been caused by medical errors that could have potentially have been avoided.

If a medical mistake contributed to your child’s condition, Sokolove Law may be able to help you take legal action and pursue compensation that may cover the cost of your child’s treatment. We have registered nurses on staff with decades of labor and delivery experience who can listen to your story and help you understand what may have happened.

Get a free case review or call (800) 995-1212 today to learn more about your options and see how we may be able to help.

Erb’s Palsy Risk Factors

Certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of a brachial plexus injury occurring at birth and causing Erb’s palsy.

Erb’s palsy risk factors may include:

  • Breech deliveries: When the baby is born feet or bottom first, the baby’s arms are raised during delivery, making it easier for a nerve injury to occur
  • Shoulder dystocia: Refers to when the baby’s shoulders become stuck in the birth canal, which may lead a doctor to pull on the baby’s head and potentially stretch the nerves
  • The use of medical instruments: During difficult deliveries, a doctor may use forceps or vacuum extractors to help birth the baby, but if used incorrectly, these instruments can cause nerve damage
  • The newborn is larger than normal or the mother is petite: Either of these cases may increase the likelihood of a difficult delivery or shoulder dystocia

Newborn Shoulder Dystocia and Brachial Plexus Injuries

Shoulder dystocia poses the greatest risk for the injuries that cause Erb’s palsy in newborns, according to a study in The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery.

Shoulder dystocia occurs when one or both of the infant’s shoulders become stuck in the mother’s pelvis during delivery. The infant’s head comes out of the birth canal, but the shoulders remain stuck, which can damage the brachial plexus and lead to Erb’s palsy.

In cases of shoulder dystocia, if the doctor had ordered a caesarean section (C-section) instead, these injuries could have potentially been prevented.

If you believe your child suffered an injury at birth, you may be able to pursue compensation on their behalf through an Erb’s palsy lawsuit.

Even if your child hasn’t been diagnosed with Erb’s palsy yet, we still may be able to help. We have registered nurses on staff who can help you understand what may have happened and figure out what your next steps may be.

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Causes of Shoulder Dystocia

The most common cause of shoulder dystocia is that the baby is too large for the mother to deliver safely, usually because:

  • The baby may be larger than normal
  • The mother may be petite or have a birth canal that’s too narrow for the baby to pass through safely

In many cases, this information may be known before birth.

Shoulder Dystocia Complications

Shoulder dystocia is a difficult delivery and medical emergency that can lead to complications that affect both the baby and the mother.

Potential complications of shoulder dystocia for the baby include brachial plexus birth injuries, which can cause:

  • Paralysis in the shoulders and upper arms
  • Broken collarbone (clavicle) or arm
  • Nerve damage in the upper or lower arm

On the other hand, possible shoulder dystocia complications for the mother may include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Rectal or vaginal tearing
  • Bladder bruising

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Types of Erb’s Palsy

The types of Erb’s palsy are defined by the severity of the damage to the brachial plexus nerves, all of which can be caused by injuries at birth:

  • Avulsion: When the nerve root is separated from the spinal cord
  • Neuroma: When the nerve fibers are stretched or damaged and scar tissue develops around the original injury, interfering with their ability to communicate with muscles
  • Neurapraxia: When the nerves are stretched but not torn
  • Rupture: When the nerve itself is torn — but where it attaches to the spine isn’t affected

Get Justice for Your Child’s Injury

If your child suffers from Erb’s palsy as a result of medical malpractice or negligence, the birth injury attorneys working with Sokolove Law may be able to help you pursue compensation that can cover the cost of your child’s treatment and other expenses.

Over the last 40+ years, our experienced lawyers have recovered over $710 Million on behalf of families nationwide with children affected by birth injuries like Erb’s palsy. Not only do we have experienced lawyers, we also have a team of registered nurses who can listen to your story and help you understand what may have happened.

Learn more about your options today by calling (800) 995-1212 or filling out our contact form.

Erb’s Palsy and Shoulder Dystocia FAQs

What causes Erb’s palsy? 

When a doctor applies too much force to a baby’s neck during a difficult delivery, it can stretch the group of nerves in the neck and shoulders (known as the brachial plexus), causing Erb’s palsy.

This can occur when doctors improperly use instruments like forceps and vacuum extractors or during difficult deliveries like breeches or shoulder dystocia.

Can you sue for shoulder dystocia? 

Shoulder dystocia occurs when a baby’s shoulders become stuck in the birth canal. This can lead to a doctor applying too much force to remove the infant, injuring the brachial plexus nerves and causing Erb’s palsy or other injuries.

If medical malpractice caused or contributed to your child’s injury, you may be able to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for medical costs and other damages. In cases of shoulder dystocia, a doctor may have failed to foresee that a cesarean section would be necessary.

If an infant was injured during birth because a doctor failed to foresee that a cesarean section would be necessary, the doctor could be held accountable for their negligence. Contact us today to learn more.

How does Erb’s palsy happen in babies?

Erb’s palsy occurs when the brachial plexus nerves are injured. During delivery, this can happen when a baby’s neck is stretched or torn, often through the misuse of forceps or other instruments. This damages the nerves that make the infant’s shoulders and arms function normally, causing muscle weakness or even paralysis in the affected arm(s).

What causes brachial plexus injury at birth?

The greatest risk of brachial plexus injuries at birth is shoulder dystocia, when the baby’s shoulders become stuck in the birth canal. Doctors may apply too much force when trying to remove a baby from the mother’s birth canal, especially if the baby is very large or the mother is very petite. This can lead to the stretching or tearing of the nerves that make up the newborn’s brachial plexus.

How does the brachial plexus get injured in newborns? 

Brachial plexus injuries happen when a newborn’s nerves are stretched, often during a difficult delivery. Medical negligence or malpractice is sometimes to blame — for example, a doctor may have incorrectly used forceps when trying to extract the newborn from the birth canal or neglected to order a C-section when the warning signs of a difficult delivery were present.

If you believe your child may have experienced a birth injury, you may be able to take legal action. Contact us today to learn more about your options.

Why does brachial plexus palsy occur? 

Brachial plexus palsy occurs when the bundle of nerves in the neck and shoulder, which make up the brachial plexus, are damaged. In many instances, a baby’s nerves are stretched or torn during difficult deliveries, like when a doctor uses too much force to free the child from the birth canal.

Can shoulder dystocia cause brachial plexus palsy? 

Shoulder dystocia — when a baby’s shoulders become stuck in the birth canal during delivery — poses the highest risk of causing the brachial plexus injuries that lead to Erb’s palsy.

This nerve damage often occurs when a doctor applies too much force to the baby’s neck during a complicated delivery.

Author:Sokolove Law Team
Sokolove Law Team

Contributing Authors

The Sokolove Law Content Team is made up of writers, editors, and journalists. We work with case managers and attorneys to keep site information up to date and accurate. Our site has a wealth of resources available for victims of wrongdoing and their families.

Last modified: September 9, 2021

View 5 Sources
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  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Brachial Plexus Injury.” Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/brachial-plexus-injuries. Accessed on July 7, 2021.
  3. Baptist Health. “Erb's Palsy (Erb Duchenne Palsy).” Retrieved from: https://www.baptisthealth.com/services/neurology-care/conditions/erbs-palsy. Accessed on July 7, 2021.
  4. March of Dimes. “Shoulder Dystocia.” Retrieved from: https://www.marchofdimes.org/complications/shoulder-dystocia.aspx. Accessed on July 7, 2021.
  5. Beth Israel Lahey Health Winchester Hospital. “Health Library – Shoulder Dystocia.” Retrieved from: https://www.winchesterhospital.org/health-library/article?id=223418. Accessed on July 8, 2021.