Shoulder dystocia as a result of medical negligence

  • Sometimes shoulder dystocia (which occurs during labour) can be as a result of medical negligence.
  • If you think this injury could have been avoided if you had received better or alternative treatment, you could be eligible for compensation.

What is Shoulder dystocia?

Shoulder dystocia is a complication in labour where after delivery of the baby’s head, the baby’s shoulder becomes trapped behind the mother’s pelvic bone. Regarded as an obstetric emergency, babies who suffer from shoulder dystocia during their birth can suffer from Erb’s Palsy, a clavicle (collar bone) fracture, hypoxia or death. In addition, mothers whose babies have shoulder dystocia can experience postpartum haemorrhaging after birth, third and fourth degree perineal tears and even uterine ruptures.

There are known risk factors associated with shoulder dystocia, which include:

  • A suspected large baby
  • Maternal diabetes
  • Maternal obesity
  • A family history of shoulder dystocia

Where risks are identified in the antenatal period a discussion on mode of delivery should always take place without which there may be consent issues.

During labour there are known warning signs which should suggest to the midwife or clinical team that there is a risk of shoulder dystocia occurring. Common signs include a prolonged first or second stage of labour; no shoulder rotation or descent; the need for instrumental delivery. All clinicians must be aware of any existing risk factors in women during labour and be prepared for the risk of shoulder dystocia. Alongside this, all birth attendants must be aware of the methods of diagnosing shoulder dystocia and the techniques required to facilitate delivery. Prompt recognition and timely management of shoulder dystocia is imperative.

Shoulder dystocia, when it arises, can result in a broken bone or clavicle, damage to the nerves running through the neck, or even in some cases shoulder paralysis.

Medical negligence claims

As with any birth injury, some cases of shoulder dystocia are the result of medical negligence in circumstances where they were clearly avoidable with better or alternative treatment or care. There are many claims that can arise out of shoulder dystocia both in relation to its diagnosis and treatment which include:

  • Diagnosis delay and failure. Shoulder dystocia requires immediate diagnosis and treatment in order to ensure that no long-term injuries or a fatality occurs. It should be clear to all clinicians whether shoulder dystocia is occurring based on a number of symptoms, and it is vital to take urgent action to prevent any detrimental effects, including fatality. A failure, or delay, in diagnosing shoulder dystocia can amount to negligence, and failure to predict shoulder dystocia, and therefore not taking effective steps to prevent it, can result in a claim for compensation.
  • Treatment delay and failure. If shoulder dystocia occurs during delivery, immediate action needs to be taken. Most claims arise from a delay in providing suitable treatment and malpractice of the delivery process once shoulder dystocia happens.
  • Negligent treatment. If shoulder dystocia can be predicted in the antenatal period, a caesarean section may be effective in preventing it from actually occurring. A common claim that arises is when treatment, such as a caesarean section, is not offered. Other claims occur when correct treatment is administered but without care, such as excessive force during an attempt to dislodge the baby.

In such cases you could be entitled to make a compensation claim and should obtain specialist legal support and advice. We recognise the very real difficulties that exist in caring for an injured child. Not least difficulties accessing ongoing medical treatment, care and support, education, therapy and equipment. In cases where liability is resolved, we will always seek interim payments at an early stage to ensure access to such treatment, support and assistance. Our Community care team are also here to advise and provide assistance in securing all requisite NHS and Local Authority care and support during the continuance of your claim.

We are also able to offer our clients in an appropriate case a specialist ‘immediate needs assessment’ service.

If you believe that you or someone you know has suffered as a result of medical negligence please contact Tim Spring. We deal with clients throughout the country and we will visit you at your home, hospital or rehabilitation unit.

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