What is a Brachial Plexus Injury?

The brachial plexus is a communication highway between the brain and the shoulder which contains the nerves responsible for transmitting commands to the shoulder, arm, wrist and hand. The communication highway also works in the opposite direction – carrying messages from the limb that signal pain, pressure and temperature back to the brain.

This network of nerves is fragile, and should it become damaged, the signals to and from the brain will not arrive – resulting in a lack of movement in the muscles of the arm and hand, and a loss of feeling in the affected area. Although the nerves within the brachial plexus have the capability to repair themselves when minor damage has been sustained, when a brachial plexus injury is severe the disability could become permanent.

How a Brachial Plexus Injury Occurs

Brachial plexus injury occurs when the area between the collar bone and upper rib is stretched or cut, or when intense, prolonged pressure is applied – such as damaged muscles swelling in the brachial plexus area. These injuries may be caused when you suffer a broken clavicle (collar bone) in a road traffic accident or fall from height, or during the birth of a baby, when the head is pulled with excessive force from the shoulders during delivery.

In adults, males suffer most from a brachial plexus injury due to their more physically hazardous pursuits – working from height, riding motorcycles and participating in sports – and treatment for a brachial plexus injury is usually rest followed by physical therapy. In the most severe cases, surgery will be required when the nerves have been torn apart (a brachial plexus rupture) and a quick surgical reconnection of the nerves is required for the patient to have a good chance of recovery.

Brachial Plexus Birth Injury

Brachial plexus injuries at birth most commonly occur due to a condition known as shoulder dystocia. This is when the baby’s head has been born, but one of the shoulders becomes stuck behind the mother’s pelvic bone – preventing the birth of the baby’s body. A small delay is normal in all natural and assisted births but, as the baby cannot breathe independently as its chest is compressed against the mother’s pelvis, long delays can lead to the umbilical cord becoming trapped and the baby being starved of oxygen.

Shoulder dystocia is an obstetric emergency, and the baby’s shoulders need to be quickly released to enable the baby to be born and start breathing independently. However, if using too much force when manoeuvring the baby, a brachial plexus injury can occur and the child could grow up to be permanently disabled.

How Prevalent is Brachial Plexus Injury?

This is difficult to assess. In adults, the effect of a brachial plexus injury can disappear quickly or be masked by another injury in the same area – such as a broken clavicle. Shoulder dystocia occurs in about one in two hundred births, but not all cases result in a brachial plexus injury, as hospitals have protocols in place to deal with such an emergency, and because children heal quickly when they are that young.

Brachial plexus birth injuries can also be anticipated if the baby is larger than 4.5Kg, if the mother has suffered from diabetes during her pregnancy or has had a previous delivery where shoulder dystocia occurred. An obstetrician or midwife would be aware that every birth has a small chance of shoulder dystocia, and would look out for its possibility, and be prepared to act at the first signs.

Compensation for a Brachial Plexus Injury

Irrespective of whether a brachial plexus injury occurs at birth or later in life, it may be possible to make a brachial plexus injury compensation claim when the injury has been caused by the negligence of another. Claims for brachial plexus injury compensation for adults’ injuries may be made against a negligent driver or employer who has failed to follow health and safety regulations. Those made by a child, or the parent of a child acting as its “next friend”, will be against the Health Service Executive for medical negligence during birth.

How much compensation could be awarded for a brachial plexus injury claim will depend not only on the degree of injury and the pain and suffering experienced by the injured party, but also on how it is perceived that they will be disadvantaged by their brachial plexus injury in the future – both socially and economically. No amount of brachial injury compensation can ever make up for the loss of a limb’s function, but it can ensure that the quality of a victim’s life – especially a child’s – is improved.

Making a Claim for Brachial Plexus Injury Compensation

The route by which you make a claim for brachial plexus injury compensation will depend on how the injury occurred. Most commonly, adults who sustain a brachial plexus injury through a road traffic accident or incident at work will have to apply for an assessment by the Injuries Board Ireland, while victims of brachial plexus birth injury will have to seek medical negligence compensation through litigation.

It is always in your best interests to discuss your claim for brachial plexus injury compensation with a solicitor, even when you are seeking an assessment by the Injuries Board Ireland, as a solicitor will be familiar with how much brachial plexus injury compensation you should receive and be able to negotiate on your behalf if you are approached by the negligent party’s insurance company with an inappropriate offer of compensation in exchange for early settlement.

Summary

  • A brachial plexus injury affects the transmission of signals between the brain and the affected arm, affecting its movement and sensitivity
  • A brachial plexus injury can be caused by a physical trauma to the brachial plexus or by applying excessive pressure to the area
  • Brachial plexus birth injuries are usually avoidable and, when they occur, often clear up within the first six to eight weeks
  • Severe brachial plexus injuries can be permanent and, when caused by negligence, you are entitled to claim compensation
  • Depending on the circumstances surrounding the brachial plexus injury, compensation may be assessed by the Injuries Board Ireland or in court.
  • You should never enter into negotiations with the negligent party’s insurance company without consulting a solicitor

Further Information on Brachial Plexus Injury Compensation

Claims for brachial plexus injury compensation are often complicated, and frequently require expert medical opinion to determine the extent of a brachial plexus injury and its consequences. Therefore, you are advised to always discuss your case with a solicitor whenever you believe that you have sustained a brachial plexus injury due to the negligence of another.

It is important to note that each brachial plexus injury compensation claim is unique. If you have been unfortunate enough to have suffered a brachial plexus injury and feel that you have a potential brachial plexus injury claim, you are advised to discuss all of the points raised in the preceding article with a solicitor at the earliest opportunity.

Copyright © 2009-2015 Eoin Campbell

Eoin P. Campbell on Whiplash Injury Claims About the Author
Eoin P. Campbell is an honours law graduate (LL.B) and qualified solicitor whose professional experience is in the area of litigation and in particular personal injury claims. Eoin P. Campbell is currently lecturing in law at two universities in Lyon, France.