Erb’s Palsy: Causes And Consequences

Sarah Klein | March 19th, 2013 | Posted in Cerebral Palsy Lawsuit News

Erbs palsy lawsuitErbs palsy is a serious birth injury that affects thousands of newborns every year. The causes of Erbs palsy include excessive force applied to the child’s shoulder during delivery, which damages the nerves responsible for movement of the shoulder, arm, and hand. Sadly, the condition is often the result of medical malpractice during childbirth, and therefore could have be avoided. A small error by a physician or nurse in the delivery room can have devastating consequences, leaving a child permanently injured and subjecting parents to the financial and emotional hardships of caring for a child with a severe disability. Many victims go on to file an Erbs palsy lawsuit.

Causes of Erbs palsy include medical malpractice

Erb’s Palsy is a severe nerve injury. When a newborn’s shoulder is pulled improperly during delivery, the infant’s brachial plexus may be damaged. The brachial plexus is a network of nerves near the neck that controls movement and sensation in the arm, hand, and fingers. The term “palsy” means weakness. The condition is named after Wilhelm Erb, the physician who first described it.

Erb’s palsy frequently arises during difficult deliveries, such as breech (feet first) births, where a doctor’s intervention is required to effect the birth. The causes of Erbs palsy include twisting or pulling an infant’s head or neck when the infant’s shoulders are passing through the birth canal, twisting or pulling the infant’s shoulders during a head first delivery, or applying undue pressure to the infant’s arms during a breech delivery.

Symptoms and diagnosis of Erb’s Palsy

A child born with Erb’s Palsy may experience weakness or even paralysis of the upper and lower arm. Symptoms of the condition include limp arm, lack of movement of the arm or hand, difficulty grasping objects, and an inability to maintain normal arm positioning. The symptoms of Erbs palsy most often appear soon after birth.

In order to diagnose Erb’s palsy, a physician will often examine the infant for evidence of shoulder fractures, frequently by taking x-rays. Diagnosis can also be made through an “involuntary startle test.” If the baby has Erb’s palsy, the startle reflex will be absent on the affected side of the baby’s body.

Although some instances of Erb’s palsy can heal within six months, and require only physical therapy, other cases are more serious. Some require surgery to correct the child’s arm function. In other severe cases, the limited range of motion and weakness in the limbs may be permanent. In the worst cases, the child’s arm and shoulder are permanently paralyzed.

Although both are frequently caused by medical malpractice, Erb’s palsy differs from cerebral palsy, which can lead to serious brain damage and problems with the central nervous system. Cerebral palsy is caused by problems during birth, such as hypoxia (low oxygen) and failure to timely perform a C-section. A child suffering from cerebral palsy may have life-long difficulty with sight, speech and learning.

Filing an Erbs palsy lawsuit

The pain, suffering, and medical expenses caused by Erb’s palsy can be significant. When a child suffers from a birth injury due to errors or negligence on the part of medical personnel, the family may benefit by consulting an experienced birth injury attorney about the benefits of filing an Erbs palsy lawsuit. The attorneys at Balkin & Eisbrouch have decades of experience successfully litigating cases where serious birth injuries were caused by medical negligence. If your child has suffered unnecessarily due to medical malpractice, we invite you to call us for a free case evaluation.


  1. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00077