Shoulder Dystocia Birth Injuries: When to File a Lawsuit

Shoulder dystocia is a rare birth complication that occurs when one or both of a baby’s shoulders become lodged in the birth canal. It is crucial that medical staff respond to shoulder dystocia quickly and properly. Without medical intervention, shoulder dystocia birth can result in severe injuries to the child, including brain damage, nerve damage, brachial injuries, broken bones, or death. The mother can also suffer serious complications such as a torn cervix or postpartum hemorrhaging. If you or your loved one were injured from a shoulder dystocia birth, you may be wondering if you should sue for medical malpractice.

According to the National Library of Medicine, obstetric emergencies complicate 0.6 to 1.4% of all vaginal deliveries.  While most doctors deliver babies with shoulder dystocia safely, the condition is classified as a medical emergency because of the range of serious injuries that can occur.

If you were at risk for shoulder dystocia and your doctor failed to prepare for it or to properly manage your delivery, you may have grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.

What risk factors are associated with shoulder dystocia?

While it’s not possible to predict shoulder dystocia, studies have shown there are certain conditions that can place some women at higher risk, * including:

  • Mother is diabetic or obese.
  • Mother is slight of build or petite.
  • Mother had excessive weight gain during pregnancy.
  • Baby is large or arrives after its due date.
  • Mother is pregnant with more than one baby.
  • Mother had shoulder dystocia with a previous pregnancy.

*Shoulder dystocia can also occur when no risk factors are present.

While it is not possible to prevent shoulder dystocia from occurring, medical professionals can take certain actions when faced with this complication, such as repositioning the mother during delivery or performing a C-section.

What impact can shoulder dystocia negligence have on your child?

 If shoulder dystocia is handled properly by your medical team, your child may not suffer any negative impacts at all. But if medical staff fails to act quickly or adequately, your child could become seriously injured. Possible injuries can include:

  • Bone fracture of the shoulders.
  • Brain damage, due to lack of oxygen.
  • Nerve damage resulting in Erb’s palsy or Klumpke’s palsy.
  • Brachial plexus injuries causing loss of feeling in limbs/muscular weakness.
  • Fetal death.

How do I pursue a shoulder dystocia negligence lawsuit?

To successfully pursue a shoulder dystocia negligence lawsuit, a plaintiff must be able to prove that the medical team failed to provide the expected standard of care. This can be illustrated in the following ways:

  • The doctor failed to recognize the warning signs of shoulder dystocia.
  • The doctor failed to prepare for the possibility of shoulder dystocia.
  • The doctor failed to respond appropriately to shoulder dystocia and/or injured the baby during the delivery.
  • The doctor failed to warn a high-risk mother about the possibility of shoulder dystocia or to suggest a C-section to avoid those risks.

While obstetric providers are required to be knowledgeable about the risk factors and management of shoulder dystocia, it can be difficult for a layperson to tell if a doctor’s actions failed to meet the standard of care. Speaking to an experienced medical malpractice attorney about the circumstances of your case can help you decide whether to pursue a claim for shoulder dystocia negligence.

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