Are the Horrors of Erb’s Palsy Preventable?

When a child is born with Erb’s Palsy, it is often a scary and nerve-wracking scenario for the new parents. The newborn’s arm cannot move. It lays limp and often is rotated abnormally. A new parent will frantically ask: How did this happen? How can this be fixed?

In the months or even years to come, many affected newborns will recover movement of their arm, but, for some, this injury will be permanent — which means that the child will bear a paralyzed or partially-paralyzed arm for their entire lives.

What Exactly Is Erb’s Palsy?

To understand Erb’s Palsy, one must understand the brachial plexus, a network of nerves near the neck that helps the brain control the nerves of the arm. In a complicated birth, the brachial plexus can be damaged or torn. When this happens, the brain is no longer able to connect to the nerves of the arm. Instead, the connection has been interrupted indefinitely.

As many as 2 out of every 1,000 newborns suffer from this birth injury. It is important to remember that a child is not naturally born with this ailment. Rather, something physical and specific happened in the delivery process that caused the damage.

Who Exactly Is Responsible?

It is appropriate for a parent to question the quality of medical care received during birth. A brachial plexus injury can occur from prolonged labor, breech presentation, or when a doctor or nurse must apply force to deliver a baby quickly.

For the most part, doctors and care staff are compassionate and well-intentioned. A recent study, however, has revealed that medical errors are the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S. — and this includes birth injuries. As patients, and parents, we must question the quality of medical care we receive — especially when it involves newborns, who are unable to do this for themselves. We must remember that out of every 1,000 births, 7 babies will suffer a birth injury. Something needs to change.

The Lingering Effects of Erb’s Palsy

The uncertainty surrounding the fate of a child born with Erb’s Palsy is perhaps one of the most difficult emotional aspects a family must cope with. Recovery of movement — if recovery occurs — can take up to 2 years, as nerves regenerate slowly. Since nerves play an essential part in growth, a child may therefore be left with a smaller and weaker arm.

In addition, a newborn suffering from Erb’s Palsy is usually prescribed daily physical therapy sessions. This can be taxing, both emotionally and financially. It is infuriating to think that one simple mistake in the delivery room can result in years of stress and worry. In some cases, even invasive surgery and nerve grafts become necessary.

Can Erb’s Palsy Be Prevented?

In today’s climate, there is an erosion of oversight and morality in certain medical groups and institutions, along with rampant corruption in state medical boards. The unsettling truth is that it is now more important than ever to question certain medical practices. Today, a patient must sometimes act forcefully when demanding a certain quality of care.

It is devastating when a newborn suffers an injury from birth, but between doctor’s visits and life in general, a new parent may not have much extra time to pursue a suspected case of medical malpractice. The thing is — such cases can provide a voice to the disenfranchised and can, as a result, create meaningful change. The goal here is not just to receive compensation for an injury, but also to prevent a future injury from occurring for someone else.

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: December 28, 2016