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Michigan Jury Awards Nearly $13 Million in Birth Injury Lawsuit

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On October 5, 2013, MLive news reported that a Flint, Michigan jury awarded a woman nearly $13 million in her lawsuit against Genesys Regional Medical Center. Libbey Bryson, 38 years old, claimed the medical center and its staff made critical mistakes during her delivery, causing her daughter to be disfigured, without the full use of her arm.

Mom Claims Hospital Mismanaged Shoulder Dystocia

Bryson went to the hospital in labor on January 1, 2008. During delivery, she alleged that the baby became stuck in the birth canal, with her shoulder lodged underneath the pelvic bone. This is a condition known as “shoulder dystocia.”

According to a 2005 study, the rate of shoulder dystocia has increased by 10-fold since 1979. Some speculate that the reasons may be linked to the average size of the unborn child, which has also increased over the last several decades, or the increase in overweight and obese women and in women with diabetes. Bryson’s baby weighed eight pounds, eight ounces at birth.

Though shoulder dystocia can be frightening, doctors are typically trained in how to deal with it. According to a 2004 article in the American Family Physician, “Calm and effective management of this emergency is possible with recognition of the impaction and institution of specified maneuvers.” Bryson, however, alleges that doctors pulled down too hard on the baby’s head to dislodge her, causing an injury to a nerve bundle near her shoulder, called the “brachial plexus.” She added that doctors should have used a different method that would have put less stress on the baby, or should have recommended a cesarean section. Instead, the baby was born with her arm twisted and disfigured.

Shoulder Dystocia Can Lead to Erb’s Palsy

Babies who experience shoulder dystocia are at an increased risk for injuries, including a brachial plexus injury that can lead to Erb’s palsy (paralysis of the arm and hand), as well as an increased risk of oxygen deprivation and even brain damage and death. In a 2003 study, researchers found that the greatest risk factors for shoulder dystocia are maternal diabetes and fetal macrosomia (large birth weight). The condition can also occur in women with infants of normal weight, however.

Doctors can sometimes prepare themselves for the possibility of shoulder dystocia by determining fetal weight prior to delivery. This can be measured via ultrasound. When a large birth weight is suspected, doctors can take steps to optimize delivery and reduce risks. Other signs of the condition may include a delayed labor, fetal stress, and abnormal labor patterns.

When presented with shoulder dystocia, there are certain approved maneuvers doctors should use to facilitate delivery. If these careful maneuvers are not successful, a cesarean section may be recommended.

Long-Lasting Effects

Bryson’s daughter is now five years old and has undergone multiple surgeries on her arm. She continues to wear a brace, and the arm remains malformed. Her injury has been diagnosed as permanent, and will require continued therapy.

The hospital argued in the lawsuit that they treated the mother appropriately, and that there were no complications during the birth that would have called for a cesarean section.