Brachial Plexus Injury Lawyers in Pittsburgh, PA
The term "brachial plexus" refers to the nerves that run from the spine through the neck and connect the shoulder, arm, hand, and fingers. Though first diagnosed in 1779, and despite major strides in understanding its causes, brachial plexus injuries are one of the most common birth injuries today.
When this injury occurs in a newborn, it is called neonatal brachial plexus palsy (BPP). This page will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment of brachial plexus injuries in infants, as well as what you can do if you think your baby has sustained this injury as a result of medical malpractice.
What Can Cause Damage to the Brachial Plexus?
Brachial plexus damage can happen along any part of the nerve fibers, and the severity of the injury depends on where and how it happened.
Brachial plexus injuries at birth normally occur due to excessive force or stretching during labor and delivery. In many instances, the labor is difficult and involves tools such as forceps or a process like vacuum extraction. Other causes may include:
- Large infant weight/size
- Shoulder dystocia
- Breech delivery
- Maternal diabetes
- Maternal obesity
- Underdeveloped neck muscles in the baby
Brachial plexus injuries can also happen if a healthcare provider applies improper force and pressure when delivering a baby by hand. Prolonged exposure to contractions in the birth canal can also place stress on a baby's head, shoulders, and upper arms.
Medical providers have a responsibility to monitor the labor and delivery process carefully to ensure the safest possible outcome for the mother and baby. If this doesn't happen, you may have a medical malpractice lawsuit. If you suspect your child could have sustained a brachial plexus injury as a result of a healthcare provider's negligence, we are available to answer your questions 24/7 at 412-394-1000.
What are symptoms of brachial plexus injury?
Brachial plexus injury symptoms usually emerge shortly after birth. They can include:
- Limited movement on the injured side
- Claw-like hand appearance
- Abnormal muscle contractions (which may become permanent)
- No Moro Reflex on the affected side (a reflex in which a baby stretches out his or her arms suddenly when momentarily released)
What is Erb's Palsy?
"Erb's palsy" is often used as another name for BPP. It is also called Erb's palsy rupture or rupture of the brachial plexus. It occurs when the nerves in the upper part of the baby's arm are damaged.
Erb's palsy may result in:
- Loss of sensory and/or motor function in the arm
- Full or partial paralysis in the arm
- Decreased grip strength and arm numbness
- The arm being limp or bent towards the body
Treatment depends on the severity of the injury. Options include:
- Physical therapy
- Regularly massaging the affected arm
How Long Does it Take for Brachial Plexus to Heal?
The amount of time is takes for a brachial plexus injury to heal depends on where the damage occurred and how severe it was. Some babies will heal on their own, some may require physical therapy, and some may require surgery.
If a baby is going to heal naturally, it normally happens within the first three months or so. During this time, physical therapy and daily massages may be recommended.
How Long Does it Take to Recover From a Brachial Plexus Injury?
Natural healing from a brachial plexus injury normally happens within the first three months. If recovery doesn't happen during that time period, surgery may be required.
Surgery for brachial plexus may include something called a "nerve transfer." During this procedure, doctors take a healthy nerve and transfer it to the damaged nerve. It may not totally cure a brachial plexus injury, but some studies have shown that infants who undergo a nerve transfer do recover and are able to use the damaged area.
The risks associated with nerve transfer surgery are rare, but can include artery and vein damage, breathing difficulties, and paralysis. Healthcare providers and caregivers should be on the lookout for symptoms of nerve damage after shoulder surgery to ensure prompt and proper treatment.
Despite everything that is known about brachial plexus injuries, there haven't been enough studies to establish a clear prognosis for injuries that don't heal on their own. And, the more serious the injury, the less of a chance of making a full recovery. Each case is unique, however, and recovery time will depend on the specific injury sustained, the treatment used, and the quality of follow-up care.
Is Brachial Plexus a Disability?
Sometimes, brachial plexus injuries don't heal completely, and this arm birth defect can later qualify as a disability. In some individuals, damage to the brachial plexus nerves can result in accidents like falls or car accidents that lead to further injuries. It can also affect quality of life by causing chronic pain or making it difficult to care for oneself.
The medical needs of someone born with a brachial plexus injury can become expensive, but in certain cases, Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) can help to offset some of those costs.
SSD provides payments to those who are permanently disabled, can't work, and have earned enough income to have paid into the Social Security system. SSI is for children (or adults) who aren't able to work due to a physical disability or mental health condition but haven't paid enough into the Social Security system to receive SSD payments.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Personal Injury Settlement Check?
We know that if you are dealing with the financial consequences of a brachial plexus injury, one of your first questions might be, "How long will it take to get my settlement check?"
We wish that we could give a definite answer, but that would be misleading. The honest answer is: Every medical malpractice case is different. Some resolve in months and some resolve in years. An experienced brachial plexus injury attorney will be able to talk to you about the factors that affect your individual payout time. In general, some of those factors may be:
- Determining liability for an accident or injury
- The amount of the settlement
- Whether or not your child is receiving ongoing medical treatment for the injury
Filing a Brachial Plexus Injury Claim
If your baby sustained a brachial plexus injury, it's in your best interest to speak to a brachial plexus attorney right away. All lawsuits are subject to statutes of limitations, which limit the amount of time during which a person can file a lawsuit. The statutes vary by both state and by lawsuit type. Typically, in Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for a medical malpractice lawsuit is two years from the date the malpractice occurred.
There are some exceptions to this rule that extend the deadline, but the sooner you get in touch with an attorney, the sooner he or she will be able to get to work on your case.
Hiring the Right Brachial Plexus Lawyer
We wish that there was a way to go back in time and stop accidents and injuries from happening. They have consequences that can be emotionally, physically, and financially devastating. That's why it's so important to hire the right injury attorney – there is a lot riding on the decisions he or she makes when handling your case.
An experienced attorney will be able to help you understand all of your options, what they mean, and how they can affect your chances of having a successful claim. If you have questions about a brachial plexus injury and what you should do next, don't hesitate to contact us. We're available 24/7 for a free case review. 412-394-1000.
- "Brachial Plexus Injury." Birth Injury Guide. September 2018.
- "Brachial Plexus Injury." Mayo Clinic. August 17, 2018.
- "Brachial Plexus and Social Security Disability Benefits." United Brachial Plexus Network. September 2018.
- "Erb's Palsy." OrthoInfo. September 2018.