Shoulder Dystocia/ Brachial Plexus Injury

Shoulder dystocia is a serious birth injury that can affect even healthy women, and result in traumatic and terrible consequences for both mother and baby. If you believe your hospital or doctor failed to take proper precautions, and you or your child are struggling with the ongoing effects of shoulder dystocia, we can help. Call us.

Experienced Medical Malpractice Lawyers Representing Patients in Shoulder Dystocia Cases

Brachial Plexus Injury (often referred to as Erb’s Palsy, Klumpke’s palsy, Erb-Duchenne Palsy or shoulder dystocia) is a birth injury that can result in traumatic and terrible consequences for both mother and baby. Shoulder dystocia occurs when, following the delivery of a baby’s head, the baby’s shoulders are caught and unable to pass through the birth canal, often because the baby is too large. Excessive traction or force by the obstetrician and delivery team (e.g.: pulling on the baby’s head or arm) can cause damage to the brachial plexus, the group of nerves that run from the shoulder to the spine.

The effects of shoulder dystocia may cause lasting nerve damage and brachial plexus injury, as well as Horner’s sign. The mother may experience severe vaginal tearing and/or heavy postpartum hemorrhaging (bleeding). The most severe form of brachial plexus injury is a nerve root avulsion or rupture, where the nerve is torn from the spinal cord.

If you believe your doctor or the hospital did not take proper precautions and you or your child have suffered from the after-effects of shoulder dystocia, you have legal options available to you that could entitle you to compensation to cover ongoing medical bills and other expenses.

At Sommers Roth & Elmaleh we have more than 40 years of experience assisting families in the Greater Toronto Area, throughout Ontario, and in Alberta, British Columbia, and Quebec with medical malpractice claims, including claims from mothers and children who have suffered birth injuries.

What Causes Shoulder Dystocia?

There is always a risk of shoulder dystocia occurring, and it can strike even healthy mothers. It is difficult to ascertain when this issue may occur, however, there are several risk factors that doctors and hospitals should recognize and be prepared for in order to anticipate possible shoulder dystocia. Typically, there are higher incidents of shoulder dystocia where:

  • History of previous shoulder dystocia, advanced maternal age or abnormal pelvis;
  • The mother has diabetes, including gestational diabetes (GDM);
  • Maternal obesity or the mother has excessive weight gain (more than 35 lbs) over the course of her pregnancy;
  • pre-eclampsia;
  • There is high fetal weight or high birth weight and the baby is too large (macrosomia); symphisis-fundal height (SFH) is large or baby is large for dates, or post-dates/prolonged gestation;
  • Precipitous or fast Labour;
  • Labour is induced.

What Should the Hospital or Doctor Have Done?

As far as modern medicine is aware, aside from expedited delivery such as c-section, shoulder dystocia is not preventable. However, by anticipating shoulder dystocia and responding with an appropriate series of maneuvers, the negative effects of shoulder dystocia such as brachial plexus injury can be prevented.

Time is of absolute essence when shoulder dystocia presents itself during birth. It is critical to release the baby as quickly as possible so that he or she can be fully delivered and able to breathe. Doctors should immediately call for help and respond with a series of maneuvers intended to remove the baby from the birth canal. These maneuvers include the McRoberts maneuver (flexing the mother’s legs against her abdomen), applying suprapubic pressure, and an episiotomy to create additional space and prevent perineal tearing. Doctors should also provide anesthesia, call a neonatal or resuscitation team, and prepare to resuscitate the baby in case his or her heart stops beating. These best practices are designed to reduce the amount of nerve and organ damage that is caused by shoulder dystocia.

Unfortunately, many doctors do not correctly respond to shoulder dystocia. Some doctors panic and pull too hard on the baby’s head or arm (excessive traction), often causing severe nerve damage. Other doctors fail to take action by moving the mother into a different position, or applying pressure behind the baby’s shoulder. Such errors can result in a lifetime of health problems for the child.

Treatment for Brachial Plexus injury caused by shoulder dystocia

It may be possible to repair a rupture by using a nerve graft, whereas an avulsion from the spinal cord cannot be repaired. In some cases of brachial plexus injury, some function can be restored through surgical intervention and aggressive occupational therapy and physiotherapy. Initial treatment can be obtained through rehabilitation/neonatal programs and brachial plexus clinics.

Compensation for Shoulder Dystocia/Brachial Plexus Injury

A child or mother suffering from the effects of shoulder dystocia may be able to obtain damages if a doctor or other medical professional:

  • Failed to address common shoulder dystocia risks, such as gestational diabetes or larger babies;
  • Did not recognize a shoulder dystocia during delivery;
  • Failed to recommend a caesarean section;
  • Improperly used force or excessive traction during delivery;
  • Improperly used, or failed to use, shoulder dystocia maneuvers.

It is well established that it is easier to treat shoulder dystocia if the doctors and the hospital are prepared to do so in advance. This generally means having additional staff members on hand at the time of delivery, preparing additional anesthetic, and selecting an OB-GYN with experience in treating shoulder dystocia. Many hospitals claim that such preparation requires too much effort for something that is a “random occurrence”. However, the judicial system rejects this idea and instead recognizes that hospitals should take the necessary precautions to address shoulder dystocia.

If you believe that you have been affected by mistreated or unidentified shoulder dystocia, you may have grounds for a lawsuit that could allow you to receive compensation to provide financial security for yourself and your family going forward.

In addition to damages that may be awarded to victims and families in recognition of the injuries suffered, families may also be eligible to receive other compensation, including:

  • Past and Future Income Loss as a result of caring for an injured or disabled person;
  • Home Accessibility Modifications, such as the addition of a residential elevator, widening of doorways, customizing bathrooms and kitchen, building a therapy pool or hydrotherapy pool, and many others;
  • Purchase of a New Home in an area closer to hospital and/or other necessary medical services;
  • Attendant Care Services including private nurses (RN/RPN), Personal Support Workers (PSW), Disability Support Workers (DSW), or Rehabilitation Support Worker (RSW) not covered by provincial funding.

We know that caring for a child with extraordinary needs can be expensive and difficult- and that government assistance programs are not enough. At Sommers Roth & Elmalah our ultimate objective is to obtain financial security for our clients and help them with the often-immense cost of the medical care and other services that will be required over their lifetime.

Skilled and Highly Experienced Medical Malpractice Lawyers Helping Clients Obtain Compensation in Birth Injury Cases

If you are struggling with medical and care bills following shoulder dystocia or other birth injury, contact the respected and dedicated lawyers at Sommers Roth & Elmaleh to find out what options are available for you and your family. We have represented hundreds of clients in medical malpractice and birth injury claims and have a track record of successfully obtaining significant compensation. Call us at 1-416-961-1212 or contact us online for a free consultation.

Practice Areas

The dedicated, driven, and experienced medical malpractice lawyers at Sommers Roth & Elmaleh regularly assist clients and families with a wide variety of medical malpractice claims, including:

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