Birth Injuries

Specializing in Shoulder Dystocia and Erb’s Palsy Birth Injuries

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Two common types of infant birth injuries are Shoulder Dystocia and Erb’s Palsy.

Shoulder Dystocia describes a situation where the fetal head has been delivered but the shoulders are stuck behind the mother’s pelvic bone and cannot be freed. This can cause injury to the infant, including blocking the infant’s ability to breathe resulting in neurological damage, skeletal injury involving fracturing the baby’s clavicle or humerus, or brachial plexus injuries. If the shoulder dystocia is properly diagnosed there is a simple medical maneuver available to deliver the child safely or if recognized early enough, a Caesarean section may be performed. If the woman is told to push without recognizing the problem, the brachial plexus will be injured.

The brachial plexus nerves emerge from the spinal cord and travel across the shoulder, along the arms to the tips of the fingers. Damage can manifest itself in a number of ways ranging from mild to severe and from temporary to permanent, including:

  • Klumpke’s Palsy, which is a paralysis of the thoracic nerves often causing the hand to be limp with immovable fingers.
  • Horner’s Syndrome caused by damage to the sympathetic nervous system resulting in eyelid droop and a smaller pupil.
  • Complete Brachial Plexus Palsy which occurs when all five nerves of the brachial plexus are affected, resulting in paralysis of the entire arm
  • Erb’s Palsy which is caused by paralysis of the fifth and sixth cervical nerves resulting in the arm being turned towards the body and the hand turned backward with no movement at the elbow. Erb’s Palsy is the result of the baby’s head being subjected to excessive trauma during birth and delivery.


Most Shoulder Dystocia and Erb’s Palsy injuries are caused by negligence, as there are well-known and easily established risk factors, and effective ways of managing the situation to prevent injury. Failure to arrange a Cesarean section in cases where shoulder dystocia should have been anticipated is a common cause of action, as is negligent handling of shoulder dystocia by failing to follow established protocols when the problem presents itself during delivery.

These cases can be complex to prosecute for a variety of reasons, including the difficultly of determining who was responsible for what actions when a team of professionals is present for the birth, the difficulty of getting doctors to testify as experts against each other, and the ambiguity of medical records which often improperly indicate who delivered the baby. The doctor will almost always claim that the facts did not demonstrate the shoulder dystocia or that the birth injuries were not related to the doctor’s acts.

Here are just a few examples of Erb’s Palsy cases litigated by Trief & Olk:

  • We represented an infant who was diagnosed with Erb’s Palsy after the delivering obstetrician pulled on the infant’s head when the shoulder was stuck. The defendant obstetrician denied that the shoulder was stuck and that she pulled on the infant’s head. At trial, however, the jury found for our client and awarded a seven-figure verdict. Post-verdict settlement resulted in a structured settlement worth many millions over the infant plaintiff’s lifetime.
  • In another case, the mother had previously delivered very large children and the sonogram estimated the baby’s birth weight to be greater than 10 pounds. This is one of the most clear indications that shoulder dystocia will be present. The doctor refused the mother’s request for a Cesarean section; and after delivery, the baby needed resuscitation and the baby’s arm was found to be limp. We were able to obtain a generous settlement for the client.
  • After a vaginal delivery in which the physician failed to properly estimate the fetal weight and missed numerous other indications that the baby was too big to deliver without performing a caesarian section, our client’s baby suffered numerous medical complications, including Erb’s Palsy. We were able to reach a settlement which established an annuity with multimillion dollar benefits.
  • We successfully represented a mother and her child who developed Erb’s Palsy because her physician pulled excessively on an infant’s head after shoulder dystocia occurred during delivery. Even though the mother had failed to disclose that her first child had also had shoulder dystocia during delivery, we were able to reach a settlement which will result in the infant receiving over seven figures over the course of her life.

We have represented families whose newborns have been diagnosed with Shoulder Dystocia and Erb’s Palsy. If you believe that your child’s condition may be a result of birth injuries, we may be able to help you recover damages and obtain compensation for your child. Please contact us to find out more information or to discuss your case with one of our New York or New Jersey Shoulder Dystocia and Erb’s Palsy attorneys.

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.