Erb’s palsy refers to partial or complete paralysis of the arm due to an injury to a group of nerves called the brachial plexus, usually during birth. While mild cases may resolve on their own within the first three months, severe damage can lead to permanent arm paralysis.
Besides physical disability, living with Erb’s palsy can cause emotional and psychological distress. You may be unable to perform daily activities such as driving and doing household chores, and the condition may significantly impact your employment opportunities.
If your child’s injury was due to negligence, you might be able to make an Erb’s palsy claim. You can recover damages for pain and suffering, as well as any financial losses and expenses you might incur due to the brachial plexus injury.
Can I make an Erb’s Palsy claim?
Erb’s palsy occurs due to nerve damage to the brachial plexus during birth and may lead to partial or complete paralysis of the arm. In adults, it may occur due to brachial plexus injuries caused by a road traffic accident, industrial accident or criminal assault.
If you want to make an Erb’s palsy claim, a free consultation with a legal adviser is the easiest way to find out whether you have grounds to take legal action. As a general rule, a claim should be possible if you can show that:
- Another person or organisation owed you a duty of care
- They breached their duty by committing a negligent act
- You or someone you love was diagnosed with Erb’s palsy as a result of that negligence
If your child was diagnosed with the condition after birth, this could be due to avoidable medical mistakes or negligence. Some examples include failure to recognise the signs of shoulder dystocia, using excessive force during delivery or failure to perform a caesarean when appropriate.
Shoulder dystocia can also cause birth injuries to the mother, such as vaginal tears and postpartum haemorrhage, which could also be included in your claim. If your Erb’s palsy lawyer believes you have a valid negligence claim, they will consult with medical experts in the field to prove that:
- Your doctor or midwife had a duty of care to provide a reasonable standard of care as expected from a skilful and competent professional with the same level of training under the same circumstances.
- They breached their duty of care towards you by failing to do something within their responsibility or doing something they should not have done.
- There is direct and foreseeable causation between the substandard care they provided and your child’s Erb’s palsy diagnosis.
- The Erb’s palsy injury caused your child and family to suffer substantial pain, suffering and financial damages. To show this, your solicitor will gather relevant evidence such as:
- Your medical records
- Medical reports from independent professionals in the field
- Witness statements from friends, family and medical staff
- Photographs of any visible injuries
- Your notes about how you think the injury occurred and how it affected your lives
- Evidence of any financial losses and expenses you incurred due to the Erb’s palsy diagnosis
Your solicitor will take care of all the legal documents and calculate how much Erb’s palsy compensation you should receive for your damages. They will then contact the defendant and try to secure the best settlement on your behalf.
What is Erb’s Palsy?
Erb’s palsy, also known as brachial plexus palsy, is the name for partial or complete paralysis of the arm, usually due to trauma during birth. Sometimes the paralysis is temporary and may resolve on its own, but many cases require medical treatment. In the most severe cases, paralysis is permanent.
The brachial plexus is a group of nerves that provide feeling and control to the muscles in the hand, arm and shoulder. If a brachial plexus injury occurs at birth, it often leaves the child with stunted growth in the affected arm and causes:
- Impaired muscular development, which leads to weakness and mobility issues;
- Impaired circulatory development, which can leave the arm with almost no capacity to regulate its temperature and reduces the healing ability of the skin, increasing the risk of infections;
- Impaired nervous development can cause various degrees of loss of sensory perception.
There are four main types of Erb’s palsy, based on the degree of damage to the brachial plexus nerves:
- Neuropraxia is the most common type and occurs when the nerves are stretched or bruised but not torn at all. It can cause a burning or stinging sensation and usually resolves on its own within the first three months after birth.
- A neuroma is when a nerve injury has healed but left scar tissue that places pressure on the other healthy groups of nerves. The scar tissue prevents the nerves from properly conducting signals to the muscles, which may result in partial recovery.
- Ruptures occur when the brachial plexus nerve is torn and requires surgery to graft the damaged nerve fibres back together.
- Avulsions are the most severe form of nerve injury, and they occur when the nerve is completely torn from the spinal cord. While surgery may help to some extent, the affected nerve cannot be reattached to the spinal cord and may cause permanent paralysis. It can also cause difficulty breathing, small pupils and drooping eyelids.
If your child’s injury was due to medical negligence, you might be able to make an Erb’s palsy claim.
What causes Erb’s Palsy?
Erb’s palsy is often the result of excessive pulling or stretching of a baby’s head and shoulders during a more difficult birth. One of the most common causes is shoulder dystocia, where the baby’s shoulders remain stuck in the birth canal after the head has been delivered.
Although it is not always possible to predict it, several risk factors can heighten the risk of shoulder dystocia and the child suffering from Erb’s palsy, including:
- Gestational diabetes
- Shoulder dystocia occurred in a previous labour
- An assisted vaginal birth with forceps or a vacuum extractor
- Induced labour
- Excessive maternal weight gain and a body mass index of 30 or more
- A small or abnormal maternal pelvis shape
- Large infant size or high birth weight
- Forceful pulling of the baby’s arm
- The second stage of labour lasts over an hour
- More than 42 weeks gestation
- Being over 35 years old or short in stature
- Babies in breech position
Shoulder dystocia is a medical emergency that occurs in about one in 150 vaginal births, which may also cause complications for the mother, including vaginal or perineal tears, uterine rupture and postpartum bleeding. Your doctor or midwife should recognise whether you are likely to have problems during birth and recommend a caesarean section or other preventive measures.
If they fail to provide a reasonable standard of care and your child suffers an injury to the brachial plexus, you might be able to make an Erb’s palsy claim. The compensation award will usually cover pain, suffering and any past, present and future financial losses arising from the injury.
Erb’s palsy can also occur in adults due to brachial plexus injuries sustained in a variety of accidents, such as:
- Road traffic accidents, most often involving motorbike accidents
- Accidents at work
- Sports injuries
- Surgical negligence
- Industrial accidents
- Knife wounds and other criminal injuries
As long as another party caused your injury by acting violently or negligently, you might be entitled to Erb’s palsy compensation. To find out if you have a valid claim, you can enter your details into our online claim form or call 0800 678 1410 to speak to a legal adviser.
How is Erb’s Palsy diagnosed?
The symptoms of Erb’s palsy are often recognisable after birth, but it may take up to six months to determine the severity and full extent of nerve damage. Erb’s palsy causes a wide range of signs and symptoms, of which the most common include:
- Muscular atrophy
- Numbness or tingling in the hand or arm
- A limp arm and inability to grip
- Loss of sensory and motor function
- Partial or total arm paralysis
- Weakness in one arm
- Inability to lift the arm away from the body or bend the elbow
- A typical hand position, known as the waiter’s tip position
It is essential to contact your doctor if your child shows any of the above symptoms. The earlier you get a diagnosis, the sooner your child can get treatment to improve movement and muscle tone. If negligence can be established, you can also bring an Erb’s palsy claim.
The diagnosis is based on a physical examination to evaluate arm weakness. Your doctor might then order some advanced diagnostic procedures such as:
- An electromyogram (EMG) measures the electrical activity of a muscle in response to a stimulus and how fast the impulse is conducted along the nerve fibre. This can confirm and assess the severity of nerve damage.
- Imaging tests such as an MRI, CT scan, ultrasound or x-rays are used to check for damage to the bones and joints of the neck and shoulder.
- A myelogram is an imaging technique that can show the spinal cord, nerves and nerve roots to determine where the damage is located and how severe it is.
Based on the severity of the nerve injury, some babies may recover without any specialist intervention. When necessary, your healthcare professional will recommend the appropriate treatment.
What is the treatment for Erb’s Palsy?
Some mild cases of Erb’s palsy in new-born babies can resolve on their own within a few months, but more severe cases require more in-depth treatment, such as:
- Physical therapy
Physical therapy is one of the main treatments for a brachial plexus injury. It is recommended even for infants with minor damage to speed up the healing process and increase the chance of making a full recovery.
Physiotherapy helps improve muscle stiffness and range of motion and promotes healing in the hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder. Babies can start home therapy as early as three weeks old, and parents will be taught what exercises to perform to maintain and improve muscle function.
- Occupational therapy
Occupational therapy is recommended for mild to moderate brachial plexus injuries to help children develop the strength to perform everyday activities. The therapist will help your child develop age-appropriate skills, such as picking up a toy or brushing their teeth.
Occupational therapy focuses on using fine motor muscles and uses a range of movement exercises to improve muscle tone and joint function. The best results are achieved when babies start both physical and occupational therapy as soon as possible.
Hydrotherapy may be recommended if the nerves are more severely damaged or the baby has other physical injuries. It takes place in water, which makes the exercises less painful and can help children recover control over the affected arm.
- Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation
This strategy uses electrodes to send a small electrical current to the muscles affected by Erb’s palsy to increase blood flow, encourage muscle growth and minimise the weakening of muscles.
If physical therapy and other strategies do not show promising results within three to six months, your doctor may recommend surgical repair of the affected nerves. It is essential to schedule the surgical intervention as early as possible, as postponing it may lower the chances of making a full recovery. Surgery may include:
- Nerve grafting surgery is possible if the damaged nerve is still attached to the spinal cord and is done by taking a donor nerve from somewhere else in the body and connecting it to the damaged nerve.
- Nerve transfer is needed if the nerves are detached from the spinal cord. In this case, the surgeon will transfer other nerves from the spine to the most important muscles involved in arm function.
- Nerve decompression is a minimally invasive surgery used when Erb’s palsy is due to pressure on a nerve fibre and can help restore function to a mildly damaged nerve.
The surgical intervention for Erb’s palsy is a complicated procedure, and it may take months or years for nerves repaired at the neck to reach the muscles of the hand and lower arm. About four weeks after surgery, you will be referred back to physical and occupational therapy to improve the baby’s strength and range of motion.
If you believe that your baby’s injury was due to medical negligence, you might be able to make an Erb’s palsy claim. To find out if you have valid grounds to take legal action, you can enter your details into our online claim form or call 0800 678 1410 to speak to a legal adviser.
How much Erb’s Palsy compensation could I claim?
Each claim is unique, and your Erb’s palsy lawyer will look into your case in detail to make sure you get the full compensation you are entitled to receive. Your settlement will cover the following:
Special damages are the compensation for economic losses, such as:
- Medical expenses like consultation fees, diagnostic tests and hospital charges
- Physical therapy and other treatments such as surgery
- Transportation costs, whether you travel by car, taxi or bus
- Loss of future employment opportunities for your child
- Lost wages, including future loss of income
- The cost of special equipment or home adaptations
- Private tutoring for your child
- Cost of care and assistance, even if given freely by friends or family
General damages are the compensation you receive for subjective losses, such as:
- The physical pain and suffering caused by the birth injury
- Emotional and psychological trauma
- The impact of Erb’s palsy on your child’s life
- Reduced quality of life and loss of amenities
- Loss of ability to enjoy life and independence
- Loss of prospects
- Physical impairment
When calculating compensation for financial losses, your Erb’s palsy lawyer will need proof, such as receipts for costs and expenses. To calculate a fair settlement for general damages, they will refer to the guidelines published by the Judicial College. According to them, you could receive:
- Up to £6,000 for a minor brachial plexus injury with full recovery within a few weeks
- £6,000 to £9,700 for moderate brachial plexus injuries that may take several months to recover from
- £9,700 to £14,600 for more severe damage that can lead to long-term pain, stiffness and reduced mobility
- £14,600 to £36,500 for a severe brachial plexus injury that may lead to the inability to use the arm, hand or shoulder effectively
- Up to £99,500 for the most severe injuries that cause permanent paralysis
It is important to remember that the above amounts are for general damages only. They do not take into account special damages for the financial impact of the injury, which can increase the total compensation amount considerably.
What is the time limit to make an Erb’s Palsy claim?
The time limit to make a personal injury claim is usually three years after an accident that caused you any physical or psychological injury. This is set out by the Limitation Act 1980, which also states that if an injury does not become immediately apparent, the time begins to run from the date of knowledge.
The date of knowledge refers to the date the claimant knew or should have known that another party’s negligence caused them a significant injury for which they could claim compensation. The court also has the authority to override the three-year limit if this is fair and reasonable.
There are several exceptions to the three-year limitation date to make an Erb’s palsy claim, the first of which is particularly relevant to this type of claim:
- In claims involving minors, the time limit will not start to run until they reach 18 years of age. During this period, a parent or another adult may claim on their behalf as a litigation friend. After turning 18, the child will have until their 21st birthday to take legal action if a claim has not previously been made.
- According to the Mental Capacity Act 2005, if an adult is unable to make a claim themselves, a litigation friend could represent them at any time. In this situation, the three-year countdown only begins if the victim regains their mental capacity.
- If you suffered a brachial plexus injury due to a gunshot, knife wound or another criminal assault, you have two years to claim through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA).
- If your injury was due to a military accident, you have seven years to claim Erb’s palsy compensation through the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS).
As a general rule, you should contact an Erb’s palsy lawyer as soon as possible after you become aware of your or your child’s injury. This will usually make it much easier to secure your medical records, speak to the medical staff that treated you and build a strong case. Furthermore, most solicitors will not take on a claim with less than six months left to the limitation date.
How much will it cost to hire a medical negligence solicitor?
If you want to make an Erb’s palsy claim, the first thing you should do is contact a specialist Erb’s palsy lawyer. They will offer you a free initial consultation to discuss the circumstances of your injury and determine whether you have valid grounds to pursue compensation.
If you have a fair chance of making a successful claim, your solicitor will offer you a no win no fee service, also known as a conditional fee agreement. By reaching a conditional fee agreement, you can take legal action without having to pay any upfront solicitor fees.
No win no fee offers you a series of unique advantages, such as:
- You can claim Erb’s palsy compensation regardless of your current financial situation;
- You can take legal action without taking any financial risks;
- Your solicitor will offer you free support and advice throughout the claiming process;
- Your Erb’s palsy lawyer will know how much compensation you are entitled to receive and will work to negotiate the best settlement on your behalf;
- If your claim fails, you do not have to pay a single penny to your solicitor.
As part of your no win no fee agreement, your solicitor will also take out After the Event (ATE) insurance on your behalf. Thanks to ATE insurance, you will not have to pay for any legal costs and disbursements if your Erb’s palsy claim fails.
The no win no fee service ensures that you will not incur any out-of-pocket expenses if your case is unsuccessful. You only have to pay some costs and expenses if you win, and these will be deducted from your compensation award, including:
- The cost of the premium for the ATE insurance;
- Any legal expenses that cannot be recovered from the defendant, such as the cost of a medical report that was not useful in the litigation process;
- A success fee to compensate your solicitor for the risk they took by offering you a conditional fee agreement. The success fee can be no more than 25% of your compensation for general damages and past financial losses.
If you want to finance the Erb’s palsy claim yourself, you would have to pay for your solicitor’s hourly fees, which could amount to substantial sums by the time your case settles. Furthermore, if you lose, you will have to pay all the legal costs for you and the defendant, which makes this an unpopular and risky way to fund a claim.