If your baby suffered shoulder dystocia or another birth injury because of medical negligence, you might be contemplating your legal options by researching the condition, whether it constitutes medical malpractice, and whether you need a lawyer. It can feel overwhelming and daunting. In this article, we provide a brief overview of what you should know about shoulder dystocia and your options. Beyond reading what we have put together, we strongly encourage you to consult our birth injury legal team to discuss the specifics of your situation.

Remember, medical malpractice is not the cause of all shoulder dystocia cases. But many are and can be the basis for a worthy malpractice lawsuit.

What Is Shoulder Dystocia? 

Shoulder dystocia is a birth injury that occurs when a baby gets stuck in the birth canal. The mother’s pubic bone or sacrum keeps the shoulders from passing through the birth canal during a vaginal birth. Without timely medical intervention to safely deliver the baby, the newborn can suffer brain damage.

Several factors can increase the risk of shoulder dystocia, including the following:

  • The baby’s size. Because shoulder dystocia occurs when the baby gets stuck in the birth canal, the baby’s size can directly affect the risk of it happening. Larger babies are at a greater risk of shoulder dystocia.
  • Gestational diabetes. Gestational or maternal diabetes can affect the baby’s growth, which can increase the newborn’s risk of shoulder dystocia.
  • Use of pitocin. Doctors often prescribe pitocin, the synthetic form of oxytocin, during delivery to cause contractions. This may be done to induce labor initially or to try and encourage it after prolonged labor. While this has many benefits, it can also lead to an increased risk of shoulder dystocia.
  • Prolonged labor. Longer labor sometimes means an increased risk of many complications, including shoulder dystocia.
  • Prior shoulder dystocia. If you have previously given birth to a child who suffered from shoulder dystocia, then your subsequent children are at a greater risk of suffering from it. 

Other risk factors can include obesity, multiple babies (e.g., twins, triplets), past the due date, and use of forceps or a vacuum. Sometimes, these risk factors are known before the birthing process begins; other times, you may have little to no prior knowledge or warning that shoulder dystocia might occur. Your doctor, nurses, and other medical professionals must provide adequate prenatal care and closely monitor their patients during labor and delivery. 

Shoulder Dystocia Medical Malpractice

While every case is unique and may have its legal basis, there are two examples of malpractice claims resulting from shoulder dystocia that we routinely see.

Failure to Anticipate Shoulder Dystocia

One basis for a shoulder dystocia medical malpractice claim stems from the doctor or medical provider’s failure to anticipate it and take necessary steps to prevent it. 

If you are a woman with higher risk factors for shoulder dystocia and your doctor failed to anticipate and remedy those when other doctors in the same field would have, you may have a legal claim.

Excessive Force

Excessive force is as it sounds and is often the basis for a medical malpractice claim after a shoulder dystocia injury. Birth injuries, including shoulder dystocia caused by excessive force, are usually caused by the improper use of forceps, vacuum extractors, or the doctor’s hands.

The mere fact that shoulder dystocia occurred does not mean the doctor was negligent. You must be able to prove your physician failed to provide an acceptable standard of care, which resulted in your baby’s injuries. If your newborn or you were injured as a result of shoulder dystocia and suspect the doctor was negligent, contact our medical malpractice lawyers to assess your case and discuss your options. 

Proving Your Birth Injury Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

In any medical malpractice lawsuit, including those involving a birth injury, you have the burden of proving your case as the plaintiff. 

If your physician commits a negligent error that another provider with the same or similar experience and skill would not have, it can constitute medical malpractice.

To be successful, you must show:

  • A doctor-patient relationship existed, giving rise to a duty of care;
  • Your doctor breached that duty;
  • Your doctor’s breach caused your baby or you harm; and
  • The injury caused compensable damages. 

An experienced attorney can help walk you through these requirements and begin building a case to establish each of them. If you can successfully prove your case, you may be entitled to damages for:

  • Past and future medical expenses,
  • Pain and suffering,
  • Permanent disfigurement,
  • Emotional and mental anguish, and
  • Loss of enjoyment of life.

We strongly encourage you to speak with an attorney immediately to preserve your right to compensation.

Long-Term Effects and Injuries Caused by Shoulder Dystocia

Shoulder dystocia can cause bone fractures and nerve damage ranging from minor to severe and from temporary to permanent. Even worse, it can lead to significant brain damage due to a deprivation of oxygen. There is a broad range of injuries and complications that can occur from shoulder dystocia to both the baby and mother. Some of the most common injuries include the following.

Cerebral Palsy

Any temporary loss of oxygen to the baby’s brain from trauma caused by shoulder dystocia can lead to cerebral palsy, preventing the brain from controlling bodily movements.

Brachial Plexus Injuries

Nerve damage to the network of nerves in the shoulder can cause paralysis or weakness in the shoulder, neck, or arm. It is possible to lose complete function in the arm. 

Erb’s Palsy

Erb’s palsy is a type of brachial plexus injury. Specifically, it is a nerve condition in the shoulder and arm that results in weakness or loss of muscle function. These nerves allow your shoulders, arms, and hands to feel and move. If they are stretched, pulled, or torn, it can cause temporary or permanent damage and disability. 

Erb’s palsy is a birth injury that can cause lifelong disabilities. There are several causes of Erb’s palsy, but the most common is shoulder dystocia when a baby has difficulty passing through their mother’s birth canal during delivery. The doctor’s use of physical force can injure the nerves, resulting in Erb’s Palsy. 

It is thought that the risk of Erb’s palsy is nearly three times as high when shoulder dystocia occurs.

Fetal Distress

If the baby is not receiving enough oxygen for a substantial amount of time because of shoulder dystocia, it could put the baby into fetal distress, triggering further complications and an emergency c-section.

Other Injuries

Other serious injuries that can happen as a result of shoulder dystopia are permanent disfigurement to the baby, developmental delays, loss of the use of their limb, and even death.

In addition to the severe injuries shoulder dystopia poses to the baby, it increases risks for the mother. Some women suffer from excessive bleeding and may even require emergency medical care. There is also the possibility of long-term health effects for the mother from severe vaginal and peritoneum tears leading to pelvic floor, urinary, or fecal incontinence.

Newborn Shoulder Injury Lawyer

At O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble, we have a wealth of experience successfully advocating for those suffering from birth injuries, including shoulder dystocia. Check out our recent results in which we have obtained multi-million dollar verdicts for birth injury clients and their families. If your baby was injured as a result of shoulder dystopia from medical malpractice, contact us for a confidential and compassionate consultation today.

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