Birth Injury Lawsuit Leads to $1.3M Settlement

brachial plexusIn 2006, the Asher family of Cedar Falls, Iowa received a $1.3 million settlement for a birth injury that affected their daughter during her delivery. The attending physician, Dr. Anthony Onuigbo of OB-GYN Specialists should have been able to notice the baby’s shoulder was stuck during the delivery procedure and moved to a Caesarean section procedure or adjusted the baby’s position before delivery. Instead, Dr. Onuigbo used excessive force to extract the child and the injuries to the baby’s left arm were almost immediately noticeable after birth.

The baby girl suffered injuries to her brachial plexus, the cluster of nerves that extends from the spinal cord into the upper arms, shoulders, and neck and allows movement of the arms. The baby girl suffered permanent limited use of her left arm due to Dr. Onuigbo’s negligence.

Damages for Baby Asher’s Injury

The $1.3 million settlement for the Asher family included several types of damages:

  • $550,000 for lost future earnings
  • $380,000 for loss of full mind and body
  • $258,000 for pain and suffering
  • $63,000 to each parent for loss of childhood consortium

It is important to remember that a birth injury to the brachial plexus can have permanent results for a child. In the Asher family’s case, their baby girl suffered permanent damage that limited the use of her left arm. The damages in the lawsuit reflect the economic expenses related to treating the child’s condition as well as compensation for the psychological and emotional effects of the birth injury.

This case is a clear example of how an attending physician’s poor judgment can lead to serious injuries during childbirth. Doctors who perform delivery procedures must carefully monitor their patients’ vital signs and account for irregularities or warning signs as soon as they manifest. They must also use appropriate treatments and techniques that meet the standard of care for the patient’s condition. In baby Asher’s case, the obstetrician should have recognized that the baby’s shoulder position prevented a safe vaginal delivery and he should have required a caesarean section procedure or repositioned the baby to ensure a safe delivery. His failure to do so is a clear example of medical negligence.

Understanding the Standard of Care for Childbirth

Medical negligence cases revolve around the concept of the “standard of care,” or the level of treatment a patient should receive for a given condition. During childbirth, attending medical staff must carefully monitor the mother’s and the baby’s vital signs, account for any sudden changes, and take the mother’s medical history into account to ensure a safe delivery.

When a mother and/or baby suffer injuries during delivery, the victims may have grounds for a medical malpractice claim if they can prove the physician in question violated the standard of care for the patient’s condition. Ultimately, the medical review board with jurisdiction over the medical professional in question will review the victim’s claim and determine whether another similarly skilled professional in the same situation would have taken different, more appropriate actions to prevent the injuries in question.

The standard of care for a given medical condition evolves over time as medical treatment improves and the medical community discovers new, effective treatment options. Doctors may only deviate from the standard of care if they have very sound reasons to do so. For example, when a patient does not respond to the standard treatment method, an attending physician may explore alternatives if they are medically sound options.

Damages in Medical Liability Claims

The damages available in a medical malpractice claim are similar to those in most other personal injury cases. However, many states uphold specific laws that govern the statutes of limitations for filing certain types of medical malpractice claims, the damages available in such claims, and the caps or limits on those damages. The damages secured by the Asher family reflect Iowa state laws as well as the extent of the permanent damage caused by Dr. Onuigbo.

Brachial plexus injuries during childbirth almost always lead to permanent complications. Children who suffer minor brachial plexus injuries may experience some nerve damage and limited mobility that improves over time while others who sustain more severe injuries may be unable to use one or both arms permanently. A child may hold the affected limb close to his or her body or be unable to move it appropriately as he or she grows. Neurapraxia injuries that do not fully tear the brachial plexus nerves typically recover within several months, but a rupture in the brachial plexus cannot recover without medical intervention.

Brachial plexus injuries can lead to a condition called Erb’s Palsy that typically affects one or both arms, limiting sensation as well as restricting range of movement and impacting muscle development. Erb’s Palsy is a type of brachial plexus palsy that may improve over time with consistent physical therapy and possibly with surgical intervention. The condition affects only about one or two babies out of every 1,000 live births in the United States.