Chicago injury lawyers at Levin & Perconti are very familiar with cases involving brachial plexus injuries. These injuries are some of the most common forms of medical malpractice at birth, and often have life-long effects on the injured child and his or her family.
The Mayo Clinic website defines the brachial plexus as a “network of nerves” originating at the back of a person’s neck in the spinal cord that branch down through a person’s shoulder, arm and hand. Most of the brachial plexus injuries we see occur during birth, many as a result of shoulder dystocia. A dystocia occurs when a baby’s shoulders get caught against its mother’s pubic bone during delivery. This can happen if a baby is too large to fit through the birthing canal. When a dystocia occurs and a medical provider, such as an obstetrician or midwife, uses excessive force or improper movements to try to dislodge the baby, these movements can damage a child’s brachial plexus nerves.
Injuries may occur in several different ways. For instance, if the brachial plexus nerves are stretched, it may result in short term injury and the victim usually can fully recover. The nerves may also tear partially or completely, with varying effects. In the event of a tear, nerves can often heal. An avulsion is the most severe type of brachial plexus injury because the nerves are not able to repair themselves. The extent of the injury is also determined by the location of the injury. For instance, if the injury occurs in the upper part of the brachial plexus network, Erb’s palsy occurs. Lower injuries can cause Klumpke’s palsy which affects the hand or the child’s wrist.
The long-term repercussions of a brachial plexus injury at birth vary. In some cases, the injury is slight and some brachial plexus injuries fully heal on their own within the first few months of a child’s life. Some of the symptoms of a brachial plexus injury include limpness or paralysis of the arm, a lack of controlled muscle movement in the arm, hand, or wrist, and lack sensation in the arm, wrist or hand. Physical therapies or surgeries may be used to treat these injuries in an attempt to restore functionality.