Shoulder dystocia occurs when, during childbirth, the baby’s shoulders get stuck on the mother’s pelvis bones after delivery of the head. This complication is considered an obstetric emergency and, if it is not dealt with quickly, serious injury can occur to both the pregnant woman and the baby. Indeed, if during shoulder dystocia the umbilical cord is compressed for even a short time, the baby can die. Significant risk factors for shoulder dystocia include gestational diabetes, excessive weight gain and post-term pregnancies.
One method of resolving an episode of shoulder dystocia is by applying gentle traction in an attempt to free the shoulder from the pelvic bone. However, it is crucial that the obstetrician not apply excessive traction. Doing so can cause a severe and permanent injury to the baby’s brachial plexus, which is a group of major nerves that run from the spine into the arm that control movement and sensation to the arm. If too much traction is used, the injury to the brachial plexus can cause devastating Erb’s Palsy which is essentially paralysis and lack of sensation of the arm due to a tearing of the brachial plexus.
In medical malpractice cases involving shoulder dystocia resulting in Erb’s Palsy, the defendant doctor often takes the position that because shoulder dystocia is a recognized obstetrical emergency, a brachial plexus injury is a reasonable – although unfortunate – result of the doctor’s attempt to save the child’s life. An experienced medical malpractice attorney must anticipate this argument and be prepared with the appropriate experts to counter it with evidence that the risk/reward analysis of the particular circumstances did not warrant the excessive traction that cased the injuries. We have successfully handled many Erb’s Plasy cases. For a free consultation, please call us.