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Seattle Shoulder Dystocia Attorneys

What is Shoulder Dystocia and Who Can Be Held Accountable for It?

Shoulder dystocia is a type of birth injury that occurs when one or both of the infant's shoulders become lodged against the pelvic bone of the mother. Shoulder dystocia is a very rare injury, but it can happen and when it does, immediate action is required to ensure that the life of the baby doesn't become endangered. Physicians, obstetricians, and midwives are trained to follow standards or care when dealing with a shoulder dystocia.

When shoulder dystocia occurs, even if the effects aren't apparent right away, it's important to contact a Seattle shoulder dystocia attorney. Our team at Pendergast Law, can review your case in a free consultation and explain how to recover compensation for your child’s injuries. Call us at (425) 228-3860 and toll-free at (888) 228-3860 to get the expertise of an experienced Seattle law firm.

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Injuries Caused by Shoulder Dystocia

When the infant's shoulders get lodged against the mother's pelvic bone, the infant is wedged inside the birth canal, and often no amount of pushing by the mother will result in the safe delivery of the baby. This can cause a number of problems to both mother and baby. Some of the most common injuries sustained by infants are:

  • Lack of oxygen
  • Broken bones, especially the arms and/or the clavicle bone
  • Damage to the nerves in the shoulder, arm, or hands
  • Brachial plexus injury

Complications suffered by the mother after or during shoulder dystocia are:

  • Damage to the cervix, rectum, or vagina including tearing or bruising
  • Rupture of the uterus or bruising to the bladder
  • Hemorrhaging

Often, injuries sustained from shoulder dystocia will clear up on their own or with relatively little treatment within a year. However, there are even rarer cases of children who have experienced shoulder dystocia that experience permanent paralysis from the trauma. When the infant is deprived of oxygen for long periods of time, this can also cause brain damage, which can also be permanent. In the worst cases of shoulder dystocia, death of the infant can also be a consequence.

Erb's Palsy is another condition that can be a consequence of shoulder dystocia. Erb's Palsy is a condition in which the nerves in the infant's arms and spinal cord are damaged, resulting in little or no movement in the arms, hands, and fingers. While this condition usually only lasts a few months, it can become a permanent disability. The brachial plexus is a location on baby's shoulder where a network of nerves branches from the spine down the arm. The nerves of the brachial plexus can be irritated, ruptured, or torn if a shoulder dystocia is not promptly recognized and treated within the standard of care.

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The Risk of Brachial Plexus Injuries

The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that travels from the spine, through the neck and into the armpits, arms, and hands. When these nerves are damaged, it can cause paralysis in these parts of the body, although the injury does typically only affect one arm or one side of the body. There are many different types of brachial plexus injuries, but the most common are caused by birth injuries, when the baby has been forcefully pulled through the birth canal due to shoulder dystocia.

Erb's Palsy is one of the most common brachial plexus injuries. Erb's Palsy, or Erb–Duchenne palsy, is an arm injury that occurs when the brachial plexus, a network of nerves in the shoulder, is damaged. This can cause varying degrees of paralysis in the arm and sometimes the child's trunk. Erb's palsy occurs about twice in every 1,000 births. Erb's Palsy is a condition in which the nerves in the infant's arms and spinal cord are damaged, resulting in little or no movement in the arms, hands, and fingers. While this condition usually only lasts a few months, it can become a permanent disability.

Another major brachial plexus injury is Klumpke’s Palsy. Klumpke's Palsy is a condition that stems directly from a birth injury. When the baby is in a difficult position in the birth canal, a bundle of nerves called the brachial plexus can easily become damaged. That bundle of nerves is located in the neck and spinal cord, and damage to the lower two brachial plexus nerves can result in Klumpke's Palsy, which can cause paralysis in the hand and forearm.

The treatment for brachial plexus injuries largely depends on the amount of damage done. In minor cases, when the nerve has been stretched but not actually torn, no treatment is typically necessary and the condition will most often repair itself. If the nerves are torn slightly, but are not completely removed from the spinal cord, minor treatment such as massage or physical therapy may be required to treat the condition.

In more severe cases, when the nerves have been completely torn away from the spinal cord, surgery is usually required to repair the damage. This can include nerve grafts, nerve transfers, or even muscle transfers. In these procedures, functioning nerves and muscles from another area of the body may be surgically removed, replacing the damaged nerves and/or muscles with those that are working properly.

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Causes of Shoulder Dystocia

There may be many factors at play that contributed to shoulder dystocia during delivery. Healthcare providers are trained to recognize and prepare for indications that a shoulder dystocia may occur. Some reasons for concern by the doctor or midwife are:

  • Obesity in the mother
  • Diabetes in the mother, including gestational diabetes
  • Multiple births
  • Prior difficulty during labor and delivery in previous pregnancy
  • Shoulder dystocia has occurred in previous births
  • Small stature or abnormal pelvic structure on the part of the mother
  • Particularly large birth weight of the baby (estimated by ultrasound)
  • The baby is at term or over-due (39 weeks of correctly estimated gestation or more)

Unfortunately, shoulder dystocia can be is one of those things that "just happens" at the time of delivery, and there is sometimes no way to predict or prevent it beforehand. However, mothers who are at increased risk for experiencing shoulder dystocia during delivery (such as having experienced it before), might want to speak to their doctor or midwife about having a possible Caesarean delivery.

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Shoulder Dystocia and Medical Malpractice

Just because there is no way to predict or prevent shoulder dystocia doesn't mean that the doctor or midwives can't take any blame and be held responsible in these cases. If doctors and other healthcare professionals don't act in a proper manner, diagnose the condition right away, and/or don't provide proper treatment, the results can be tragic. When this is the case, the parents of the child can file a claim for medical malpractice and this particular birth injury.

If you or a loved one have given birth, experienced shoulder dystocia, and that conditions caused other injury, call us at Pendergast Law today. We are the experienced and compassionate personal injury lawyers with medical malpractice experience. Call us at (425) 228-3860 and toll-free at (888) 228-3860 today. We know how devastating birth injuries can be, and we want to help you fight your case.

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