What is Erb’s Palsy?
Erb’s palsy affects one or two babies out of every thousand. It is an injury that occurs when the nerves in a baby’s upper arm are damaged – in medical terms it is an obstetric brachial plexus disorder. The injury usually occurs as a result of a lesion at Erb’s point, the area near the baby’s neck where the fifth and sixth cranial nerves merge to create the upper point of the brachial plexus.
What Causes Erb’s Palsy?
Erb’s palsy is frequently caused when a baby’s shoulder is dislocated during labour, most commonly where the birth has been particularly difficult.
The risk of a baby’s shoulder dislocating during labour is increased if:
- the baby is big
- the mother is overweight and/or has diabetes
- labour had to be induced
- the infant’s head is disproportionately bigger than its body
- the use of forceps or a ventouse during labour
- long second stage of labour
Brachial Plus Injuries & Erb’s Palsy
The brachial plexus is a complex network of nerves near the neck that branch out to the nerves of the arm. These nerves stimulate movement and feeling to the shoulder, arm, hand, and fingers. ‘Palsy’ means weakness, and brachial plexus birth palsy causes arm weakness and loss of motion.
In cases of brachial plexus birth palsy, the upper nerves are usually the ones affected. In this situation, your baby’s shoulder may be paralysed but they are likely to still have mobility in their fingers.
Stretching of the upper and lower nerves can result in a condition more severe than just Erb's palsy, referred to as ‘global’ or total, brachial plexus birth palsy.
What are the Types of Nerve Injuries that cause Erb’s Palsy?
There are four types of nerve injuries and all can affect a newborn at the same time.
This is the most common type of nerve injury, which can affect adults as well as newborns. The nerve receives a trauma, but remains intact. Neurapraxia nerve injuries usually heal by themselves within three months approximately.
Neuroma is where the stretching damages some of the nerve fibres causing scar tissue to develop. The scar tissue may then press on the remaining healthy nerve. Most children recover from Neuroma nerve damage fully.
This is where the nerve is torn apart and medical attention is required to fix it.
The most severe type of nerve injury, avulsion, is where the nerve is torn from the spinal cord. It is not possible to repair an avulsion from the spinal cord. In some cases, it may be possible to restore some function in the arm by transplanting a nerve from another muscle.
How do I know if my baby has Erb’s Palsy?
You and your medical team will know almost immediately if your baby has suffered a brachial plexus injury. Your newborn will show weakness in the affected arm, favour it, or be incapable of moving it. The severity of Erb’s palsy symptoms can range from signs of weakness or soreness to total or partial paralysis of the arm. Other symptoms include:
- the affected arm may be limp, held against the side of the body, and bent at the elbow
- partial or full paralysis
- inability to feel sensations in the upper arm of the affected area
- motor function in the upper arm will be decreased
- impaired circulatory, muscular, and nervous development
Can I claim compensation for an Erb’s palsy?
You can claim compensation for Erb’s palsy if you can prove that it resulted from another person or organisation’s negligent acts or omissions.
The lawyer taking your Erb’s Palsy claim would need to show:
- That the doctors, nurses, midwives and/or hospital owed you a duty of care;
- This duty was breached; and
- Your baby suffered damage as a result.
It is relatively easy for a solicitor experienced in Erb’s palsy claims to establish that the private clinic or NHS Trust and their staff owed you and your baby a duty of care.
In deciding whether or not the duty was breached, the you must prove that whatever the clinician did or did not do fell below the standard of a reasonably competent doctor in that particular field of medicine. The test of whether a doctor breached the duty of care owed to a patient is whether he or she has failed to meet the standard of a reasonable body of other practitioners also skilled in that field. This is known as the “Bolam test”.
As a claimant, you must also prove, on the balance of probabilities, that your baby’s Erb’s palsy was caused by your medical team’s negligence. This is often the most difficult part of the claim to prove; therefore, it is imperative that you instruct a personal injury lawyer who is experienced in compensation claims
Is it possible to claim against the NHS?
If you gave birth to your baby in a hospital run by an NHS Trust and you can show that the treatment you received fell below the appropriate standard of care, then you can claim compensation from the NHS. Our clinical negligence team has years of experience helping clients get the compensation they deserve following negligent treatment delivered by the NHS and will provide you with the support and legal expertise you need to make a successful claim.
What information will I need to make an Erb’s Palsy claim for compensation?
You will need to provide us with a detailed account of your pregnancy and labour, so we can ascertain whether or not negligence occurred before, during or after birth. We will also require access to your medical records and those of your baby, in addition to witness statements from anyone who attended your midwife appointments and/or labour (we can organise these for you).
Evidence from experts in brachial plexus may also be required; this is something we will arrange.
How do I make a claim?
IBB Law are one of the UK’s most experienced and well-respected law firms and our personal injury solicitors are experts in the field of clinical and medical negligence.
By contacting us, you will have taken a positive step towards seeking justice and the compensation deserved for your child’s suffering. We deal with every situation in an empathetic, professional manner and will make a thorough assessment of your case.
Our legal team are committed to ensuring clients feel listened to throughout the claims process. We will quickly establish the facts of your case and explain our strategy for obtaining compensation for Erb’s palsy in straight-forward terms. From the beginning to end of proceedings, we will ensure that you feel fully informed and supported.
What is the process of making a claim?
The team at IBB Law can assist you with evaluating whether or not you have a chance of successfully claiming compensation and then work on a strategy for how to ensure that compensation for your child’s Erb’s palsy is awarded. We strive to make clients feel as relaxed and confident as possible about their case by keeping them informed and up-to-date on its progress.
Once we have established the case for negligence, our solicitors will inform the NHS Trust or authority responsible for the hospital in which you gave birth, that you are making a claim for compensation on behalf of your child for Erb’s palsy.
The relevant authority will have 90 days to conduct its own investigation into the matter, and either admit negligence occurred or challenge the claim. If the claim is challenged, we will issue court proceedings as soon as practicable.
We believe in our clients and are driven to ensure they receive compensation for their suffering and that of their child. You can be confident of our in-depth understanding of the litigation process and our ability to instruct highly-qualified, experienced counsel to advocate for you in court if required.
How long with the process take?
The time it takes to settle a claim for Erb’s palsy varies. Complex cases can take several years. Cases can take this long because the child’s needs will not be known until they have matured. Our solicitors will proactively keep you fully informed on how your Erb’s palsy compensation claim is progressing.
Will I have to go to court?
In a majority of cases, compensation claims settle outside of court. Our birth injury lawyers have dealt with many claims and understand how traumatic attending court can be , which is why we endeavour to achieve an early settlement.
If you are required to attend court, we will provide you with a full range of support and guidance. Everything will be explained in plain, simple language and we will swiftly answer any questions you may have about the process.
If you would like further information on making a compensation claim for Erb’s palsy, please call our office on 0333 123 9099