The brachial plexus is a network of nerves between a person’s neck and shoulders that control one’s chest, shoulders, arms, and hands. A brachial plexus injury occurs if the nerves are stretched, compressed, or torn. A brachial plexus injury can occur during a birth, and a brachial plexus birth injury occurs in about one to three of every one thousand births. An injury can cause a loss of muscle function and even paralysis of the upper arm. Brachial plexus injuries can be the basis for a negligence claim in some Maryland birth injury cases.
A state appellate court recently decided a case involving brachial plexus injury that occurred during the course of a delivery. In that case, the mother was being treated by an obstetrician for her pregnancy. The obstetrician advised inducing labor because the mother was diabetic, in order to minimize any possible issues. The mother went forward with the elective induction. During the delivery, the doctor found that the baby’s shoulder was lodged against the mother’s public bone, and that the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck. The obstetrician performed maneuvers to dislodge the baby’s shoulder in order to deliver the child, and the baby suffered a permanent brachial plexus injury.
A claim of negligence was filed by the parents against the obstetrician. They argued that the obstetrician failed to exercise ordinary care while delivering the plaintiffs’ baby, thereby causing the baby’s brachial plexus injury. The jury found the obstetrician was negligent and awarded the family $2.7 million in damages. However, before and after the trial, the obstetrician argued that the parents had to prove the higher standard of willful and wanton negligence because the obstetrician was providing emergency medical care at the time. Under a state statute, in cases involving the provision of emergency medical care, a plaintiff is required to prove willful and wanton negligence.