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Birth Injury Malpractice Prompts Brachial Plexus Injury Lawsuit

Brachial Plexus Injury LawsuitA brachial plexus injury lawsuit alleging birth injury malpractice has gone to trial this September in Alabama, more than six years after an infant girl suffered permanent injuries during birth.  The baby was delivered in an emergency Cesarean section in September of 2007, and the infant’s mother has sued the Madison-based obstetrician, Dr. Jacqueline Sylvester, for what the plaintiff alleges were mistakes and excessive force during the delivery.

The infant’s mother, Cynthia Henley, has brought the lawsuit on behalf of her daughter and is seeking between $1.8 and $2.1 million in damages for future medical costs and other losses. The injury the infant sustained, a brachial plexus injury, is one of the most common types of birth injuries but is one that can have permanent effects on the child.  In this case, Ms. Henley has indicated that her daughter’s arm has been rendered nonfunctional and that the little girl will never have use of the arm.

Shoulder dystocia and brachial plexus injuries

The brachial plexus is a network of nerves found in the upper part of the spinal cord. The nerves control the shoulder, arm and hand but can become torn, stretched or damaged during birth if excessive force is used or if the infant becomes lodged in the birth canal.

In 2004, the Pediatrics Clinic of North America reported that between .13 and 3.6 infants developed a brachial plexus injury for every 1,000 live births. Brachial plexus injuries can include:

  • Avulsion: The nerve is pulled from its root in the spinal cord
  • Rupture: The nerve is partially torn but remains attached
  • Neurapraxia: The nerve is stretched or compressed but not torn
  • Axonotemesis: The nerve endings are severed
  • Neuroma: The nerve endings are severed and do not regenerate properly, resulting in the formation of a tumor.

While some brachial plexus injuries resolve on their own, approximately one out of every 1,000 newborns suffers a serious brachial plexus injury that the child may never recover from.  Many brachial plexus injuries happen as a result of shoulder dystocia, which is the medical term for an emergency situation wherein the infant’s head is delivered but the shoulder becomes lodged behind the mother’s pubic bone.

Larger babies are especially at risk for shoulder dystocia, and Ms. Henley alleges in her lawsuit that the defendant failed to adequately prepare for the possibility of a larger baby. The infant, in this case, weighed more than nine pounds at birth.

Brachial plexus injury lawsuit allegations

Cynthia Henley alleges that her doctor not only failed to adequately prepare for the birth of a large baby by offering a Cesarean section prior to delivery, but also that the obstetrician used excessive force when the infant’s shoulders became stuck and the baby lodged in the birth canal.

The plaintiff indicates that two attempts to deliver the baby using a birthing vacuum were made before the defendant and another doctor pushed the infant back into the birth canal and performed an emergency C-section. The plaintiff claims the failure to prepare properly for the birth and the excessive force used are both examples of birth injury malpractice because the doctor’s actions fell below the accepted standard of care.

The plaintiff will need to prove in her trial that a reasonable doctor would have provided more professional medical assistance prior to and during birth, and that the doctor’s failure to meet the required standard of care was the direct cause of the brachial plexus injury.