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What is Erb's palsy?

Erb's palsy is a condition that affects movement and control in the arms, and is caused by damage which may occur during birth trauma. Because the condition varies widely from infant to infant, there are a diverse range of symptoms of Erb's palsy. Some of them include:

  • An inability to move the hand, arm or shoulder
  • Arm is limp and held against the body
  • A loss of sensory function or numbness in the arm
  • Muscular atrophy

The brachial plexus is a network of nerves on each side of the body which supplies the arm and hand. The broad range of damage that can be done to the brachial plexus means that symptoms could be local, affecting only the shoulder and upper arm, or the lower arm and hand. Alternatively, there could be permanent damage to the entire arm, or in some rare cases, both limbs.

Erb's palsy only affects 3-4 in every 1,000 babies, but in most instances the condition comes about through medical negligence.

If your baby has been diagnosed with Erb's palsy and you think that your doctor, midwife or another member of the birthing team's negligence may have caused it, call us on  and find out if you can claim compensation.

What causes Erb's palsy?

The main cause of Erb's palsy is birth trauma, specifically shoulder dystocia - where an infant's shoulder is trapped behind the mother's pelvic bone. A member of the birth team who is untrained or rushed in their actions may cause stress on the brachial plexus by attempting to deliver the baby despite an obvious obstruction. This can cause the tearing or straining of the nerves, which leads to the condition.

It is important to recognise that alongside any negligence that can occur when delivering a baby, there are various factors and complications that can influence the likelihood of Erb's palsy occurring, including:

  • Babies with a large full-term weight or mothers with a particularly small frame
  • Diabetes in the mother
  • Use of vacuum delivery or forceps
  • Obesity in the mother
  • Babies born in breech, or another unusual position

Doctors will know to take extra care when these factors are present to avoid an injury that might lead to Erb's palsy. If any of the above points applied to you before birth and your child still sustained injuries, it could be a sign of medical negligence.

Do I need a witness to prove medical negligence caused Erb's palsy?

Erb's palsy can be very traumatic for all involved and it is often difficult to think back to the birth to clearly remember the actions of the medical staff during delivery.

If a caesarean section was not considered as an option or the staff's explanations or medical notes afterwards were insufficient, you may need to provide a witness account of the birth if you are the mother or the birthing partner.

The cause of Erb's palsy may have been down to the positioning of the baby's head, shoulders and arms during birth or the physical actions of the doctor or midwife during delivery. We may need to ask you if you remember what happened to help your potential claim for compensation.

Don't worry if you can't remember everything - the staff's medical notes are required to be as detailed and accurate as possible. Our medical negligence solicitors may be able to refer to these as part of your claims process.

Fortunately, most babies born with Erb's palsy are diagnosed instantly and can recover within the first year of their life. However, some cases take more than a year to resolve, and treatments can range from massage and physiotherapy to microsurgery, depending on the severity of the condition.

Some children struggle with problems in the affected area for the rest of their life, whether it's reduced motor control or setbacks in muscular development.

Whatever the damage caused, it can be an emotionally traumatising time for both the affected child and their family. Compensation can help alleviate some of the stress, and be put towards any care or equipment needed to aid progress and a full recovery.

Who can claim for Erb's palsy?

If you are the parent of a child with Erb's palsy and it was caused by a case of clinical negligence, you may be able to make a claim on their behalf before their 18th birthday.

You can find out more about children's injury claims here.

What happens when you make an Erb's palsy claim?

At National Accident Helpline, we pride ourselves on offering our customers the ability to claim on a no win no fee basis for Erb's palsy cases.

Our Legal Support Advisors will talk through your case in detail to collect the relevant information and evidence to see if you have a claim. Then we connect you to specialist clinical negligence solicitors who are experienced in cases like this, so you know that, if you have a claim, you'll be getting expert advice at a time when you need it the most.

We only put you in touch with solicitors who will handle your case on a no win no fee basis, so if you lose your case, you won't have to pay a penny. There's no risk to you, all you need to do is call us on  to discover whether you may have a valid claim.

We try to make the process of claiming as smooth and hassle free as possible, so you can get on with your life while our team of expert medical negligence solicitors work on your case.

If you have any questions, why not use our live chat service or visit our frequently asked questions page? We're happy to help.