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Can You Sue for Shoulder Dystocia?

Updated: January 20, 2022

Model depicted not actual client.

Yes. Mothers and babies who suffered shoulder dystocia during childbirth may have a medical malpractice claim. As such, they can file a lawsuit for damages and pain and suffering.

If you or your baby has been injured by shoulder dystocia, call the experienced Philadelphia birth injury lawyers at The Villari Firm. We help mothers and babies get the justice they deserve.

What is Shoulder Dystocia?

Shoulder dystocia is a birth injury that occurs when one or both of a newborn’s shoulders get stuck behind the mother’s pelvic bone preventing the baby from continuing through the birth canal. It is an emergency and medical professionals must act quickly to prevent complications and long-term injuries to the mother and/or baby.

Shoulder dystocia is indicated when after delivering the baby’s head, it retracts back tightly. This is called the “turtle sign.” Effective management of this emergency is possible with proper identification and quick and effective implementation of specified maneuvers to correct the problem and deliver the baby.

Injuries Caused by Shoulder Dystocia

Complications resulting from shoulder dystocia during delivery can affect both the mother and the  baby. The baby is at particular risk for injuries including:

Brachial Plexus Injuries

The brachial plexus is a group of nerves in the area of the shoulder that sends signals from the brain to the arm, informing how the arm should move. If these nerves get injured, the affected arm loses functionality.

These injuries may result from a doctor excessively pushing or pulling on an infant’s head during birth or from shoulder dystocia. An injury to the brachial plexus may result in an infant suffering Erb’s or Klumpke’s palsy.

Erb’s Palsy

Erb’s Palsy can cause weakness or paralysis of the arm or shoulder due to brachial plexus nerve damage. The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that run from the spinal cord to the shoulder, arm and hand.

Klumpke’s Palsy

Klumpke’s Palsy is a condition that causes a “claw-like” deformity of the hand due to paralysis of the forearms and hands, stiff joints, and muscle atrophy. This condition stems from nerve damage in the lower brachial. Some babies experience drooping of the eyelid on the opposite side of the face along with Klumpke’s Palsy, which is referred to as Horner’s Syndrome.

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy is a condition that impairs the brain’s ability to control movement in the body due to oxygen deprivation during childbirth. A temporary loss of oxygen to a baby’s brain can occur from prolonged pressure, compression on the umbilical cord, or excessive trauma caused by shoulder dystocia.

Permanent Disfigurement

Too much strain on a newborn’s head or shoulder during birth due to shoulder dystocia could result in permanent disfigurement of the child. Using excessive force on the infant could cause an injury that could cause abnormal or stunted development of their arm or shoulder.

Loss of Use in Arm or Shoulder

If a newborn suffers enough physical trauma due to shoulder dystocia, they may experience a permanent loss of use of the injured arm or shoulder. Whether it results from an injury to their brachial plexus or from general trauma, too much strain on an infant’s shoulders or arms may result in a debilitating injury.

Fetal Distress

Fetal distress occurs when an unborn child doesn’t receive enough oxygen or nutrients from the mother. If a child experiences shoulder dystocia, they cannot breather. Furthermore, the umbilical cord may squeeze shut, cutting off any oxygen the baby could receive from the mother.

Death

In extreme cases, if the baby gets stuck due for long enough or they experience enough trauma, it may result in the infant’s death. Shoulder dystocia is a serious medical emergency. As such, it requires an adequate response from competent medical staff to prevent serious injury and death.

Other Developmental Delays.

A lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain may also affect the baby’s brain development. This may result in delays in the baby’s learning, walking, and talking.

Peritoneum & Vaginal Tears

Not all injuries due to shoulder dystocia happen to the child. If improperly handled, the mother could experience peritoneum and/or vaginal tears. These injuries may lead to fecal or urinary incontinence for the mother following the birth.

Shoulder Dystocia Claims & Lawsuits

Shoulder dystocia is a known complication of vaginal delivery that occurs in 0.2% to 3% of pregnancies. It is frequently associated with permanent birth-related injuries and complications with the mother’s health. Your doctor can and should anticipate that shoulder dystocia can happen and be prepared to deal with it.

Once doctors identify shoulder dystocia, medical professionals involved in the birth must act quickly to prevent a birth injury and lower the risk of either the baby or the mother developing long-term injuries. More importantly, those professionals should know how to competently deliver a baby once to prevent the injuries previously discussed above.

Victims of shoulder dystocia may base a medical malpractice lawsuit on the following claims:

Failure to Anticipate Shoulder Dystocia

A medical professional should know to anticipate and identify shoulder dystocia if risk factors are present before and during labor. Some women are more at risk for having a baby suffer this kind of birth injury, including those with a history of:

  • diabetes and gestational diabetes
  • having a baby with large birth weight
  • shoulder dystocia in a previous pregnancy
  • an induced labor
  • obesity
  • giving birth after the due date
  • having an operative vaginal birth, using forceps or a vacuum to guide your baby through the birth canal
  • being pregnant with multiple babies.

Excessive Force

Lack of experience and anxiety may cause medical professionals to use too much force during delivery. Excessive force may take the form of the improper use of their hands, forceps or a vacuum extractor, causing a birth injury.

Contact The Villari Firm

When your baby suffers a birth injury due to shoulder dystocia that competent professionals could have prevented, you may find yourself overwhelmed with the devastating long-term consequences. When doctors and other medical professionals are negligent and fail to recognize the warning signs and act, our Philadelphia birth injury attorneys at The Villari Firm, PLLC are here to help you seek justice.

We work with top experts, including doctors and other legal professionals, to assist with investigation and preparation for birth injury cases. We’ll spare no expense in helping our clients receive the compensation needed so you can rest assured that you and your baby can be provided with the best care and a better future.

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