Birth Injury: Erb’s Palsy and Other Brachial Plexus Injuries

The focus is on a newborn's legs while they are in the hospital.


The birth of your child is supposed to be a time for joy and celebration. However, mistakes in the delivery room can cause your child to suffer needless injuries. One of these birth injuries is Erb’s palsy, a birth-related injury that impacts about 12,000 newborns each year, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Erb’s palsy is just one type of potential brachial plexus injury at birth. While there are some forms of congenital brachial plexus palsy, most are the result of trauma inflicted on the child during delivery.

Understanding Erb’s Palsy and Brachial Plexus Injuries

Injuries to the brachial plexus refer to any number of conditions resulting from damage to the nerves that run from a child’s neck to the child’s arms. These nerves are essential to your child being able to move their limbs and receive sensory information from their arms and fingers. Any injuries to this bundle of nerves can impact these capabilities.

Several different types of brachial plexus palsy can develop after childbirth. The various forms are all characterized by weakness or paralysis in the affected limb. The more severe the damage to this bundle of nerves, the greater the impairment and the more likely the damage will be permanent.

Erb’s palsy is one of the more common forms of brachial plexus palsy. It is characterized by weakness or paralysis in the arm and shoulder. While recovery from Erb’s palsy is possible, it is dependent on your child receiving prompt treatment. Such treatment could include surgery in some cases.

The longer a brachial plexus injury is left untreated, the greater the risk of the symptoms becoming permanent. 

Causes and Risk Factors: What Leads to Brachial Plexus Injuries?

Many cases of Erb’s palsy and brachial plexus injuries are the result of too much force being applied to the child during delivery. If the doctor senses a delivery is becoming difficult, they may attempt to use force to help progress the delivery. In doing so, they can inadvertently apply too much pressure and damage the brachial plexus in the process.

For example, in some cases, your baby may become stuck during delivery due to the positioning of its head. In adjusting your child’s head position, the doctor may inadvertently stretch and tear the brachial plexus and thereby cause an injury and palsy to your child.

There are no specific risk factors that make traumatic brachial plexus injuries more likely. However, some factors can increase the chance you will experience a difficult delivery. This, in turn, increases the likelihood that your doctor will negligently injure your child’s brachial plexus while attempting to navigate the delivery. These factors include:

  • Gestational diabetes
  • A baby with a high birth weight or an overweight mother
  • Being pregnant with twins or multiple children at once
  • Receiving certain medications during labor
  • A baby in a breech birth position, where they are not head-first in the birth canal

Your doctor should monitor you for these and any other risk factors during your pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Being aware of these risk factors can help your doctor make a more informed decision on how to respond to complications.

Medical Malpractice and Erb’s Palsy

Your doctor owes you and your newborn a legal obligation to provide competent and reasonable care under the circumstances. If your child is in distress or in danger, using force to manipulate your child’s position may be necessary to protect their life. However, using too much force and causing a brachial plexus injury when such force is not reasonably needed can be grounds for a medical malpractice claim.

A medical malpractice claim asserts that your doctor used force in delivering your child when no other reasonable doctor would have used such force. This requires consultation with other medical experts familiar with standard protocols and can carefully review your medical records. 

Signs and Symptoms: Recognizing Erb’s Palsy and Related Injuries

Medical imaging like X-rays and MRIs can confirm the presence of Erb’s palsy or other brachial plexus injuries. However, observing certain symptoms in your newborn will be the first indication to your doctor that your child has Erb’s palsy. Specifically, you or your doctor may notice that your child is not moving one of their arms or is moving it significantly less than the other arm.

Your doctor may also notice that one of your baby’s arms does not respond to stimuli. This lack of response can also indicate a brachial plexus injury because it suggests numbness in the affected arm.

Part of the standard medical protocol requires your doctor to perform a physical examination of your newborn immediately after birth. During this time, your doctor is likely to notice whether there are signs of Erb’s palsy. If your doctor does not perform this check, or if they only perform a cursory exam that does not look for signs of brachial plexus injuries, this can lead to the condition going undiagnosed. This can exacerbate the damage to your child’s nerves.

Legal Rights and Options: Seeking Compensation for Brachial Plexus Injuries

When your child is diagnosed with a brachial plexus injury, it is critical to know what can be done about it. Beyond getting immediate medical care to minimize the risk of long-term complications, you should consider your legal rights. This can include the right to bring a birth injury lawsuit against the provider who caused the injury. 

You might receive compensation through a settlement agreement when you file a birth injury lawsuit. This is an agreement you and the provider reach to resolve your legal claims. The provider or their insurer agrees to pay you a certain sum in exchange for your agreement not to pursue any additional damages from them in court.

While many cases settle, some do not. In those cases where a settlement cannot be reached, it can be taken to trial. At trial, you will need to prove your child’s Erb’s palsy was more likely than not the result of medical negligence and malpractice. If you do so, you are entitled to recover compensation for your and your child’s injuries.

What Compensation Is Available for Erb’s Palsy Medical Malpractice Victims?

Whether at trial or through a settlement, you are entitled to pursue compensation for your economic and non-economic damages. Statutory caps may limit your compensation. For example, in Colorado, the maximum amount of compensation you can receive for a medical malpractice lawsuit is $1 million. Of this amount, no more than $300,000 can be for non-economic harm.

Economic damages compensate you for the financial costs of your child’s Erb’s palsy. This would include expenses like procedures and hospital stays, medication costs, and compensation for time missed from work. If you must alter your work schedule because your child requires long-term care, this could also be compensated.

Non-economic damages would include the pain and suffering you and your child experienced as a result of the birth injury. Such damages include the impact on your quality of life and any anxiety, depression, or other conditions your child’s birth injury causes you to develop.

You may wonder if punitive damages are available in medical malpractice cases. Punitive damages are meant to punish certain individuals for extremely callous or reckless behaviors. They are generally unavailable in medical malpractice cases because they are reserved for these situations.

How a Birth Injury Lawyer Can Help

Putting together compelling birth injury cases is complex. A skilled birth injury lawyer has the resources and knowledge to find and secure the evidence you need to prove your case. From investigating your claim to preparing and filing your petition, trust your birth injury attorney to assert your legal rights in court.

Your lawyer can also help ensure you have the documentation and witnesses to pursue the maximum amount of compensation possible. An attorney will pursue such compensation on your behalf through settlement negotiations, attempting to reach a favorable agreement that provides you with the damages you need quickly. 

However, any reputable birth injury attorney will know when a settlement is not in your best interests and can help advise you when it is appropriate to take your case to trial.

If your case must proceed to trial, an attorney can assist you in navigating the procedural and substantive hurdles that stand between you and compensation for your injuries.

Reach Out to Bachus & Schanker Immediately

A personal injury attorney shakes hands with their client. In front of them is paperwork, a stack of notebooks, and a gavel.

If your child developed Erb’s palsy after delivery and you sustained financial loss because of it, you may have legal rights to compensation. Bachus & Schanker want to help you take advantage of those rights and hold negligent medical providers accountable. 

Our firm prioritizes ensuring your rights are upheld and that you are treated with respect throughout the process. We will review your case, help you understand what compensation you may be entitled to recover, and assist you in taking the next steps toward obtaining justice.


CO Rev Stat § 13-64-302.

Erb’s Palsy Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment.Erb’s Palsy: What Is It, Symptoms, Causes & Treatment.

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