> Insights > Medical Malpractice > Broken Collarbones at Birth: Lawsuits & Settlements
Dark Mode

Broken Collarbones at Birth: Lawsuits & Settlements

Broken Collarbone at Birth: Lawsuits & Settlements

A broken collarbone is the most common birth injury that results from the negligent care of practicing physicians. Newborn collarbone injuries are not always the direct result of negligence, but negligence does cause the vast majority of collarbone injuries at birth. 

Most broken or fractured collarbones result from some type of trauma during a difficult delivery procedure. Victims of birth injuries due to medical malpractice of the delivering obstetrician, hospital nurses and staff are entitled to financial compensation. 

Risk Factors for Newborn Collarbone Injuries 

A clavicle injury during delivery typically occurs when one or more of the following risk factors are present:

  • Child is in breech position in the womb (feet first)
  • Maternal obesity and/or health conditions like diabetes
  • Child is larger than average 
  • Twin or multiple pregnancies
  • Difficulty delivering the baby’s shoulder after the head has come out (called shoulder dystocia)
  • Assisted deliveries, in which forceps or vacuum extraction are used to pull the child through the birth canal

Shoulder Dystocia: A Serious Delivery Complication

Broken clavicles are particularly common in cases of shoulder dystocia: when a baby’s shoulders get stuck behind the mother’s pelvis. Shoulder dystocia can be extremely dangerous, as children who get stuck in the birth canal have increased risk for oxygen deprivation and thus permanent brain damage. This makes the priority to help the child pass through the birth canal by repositioning. 

Obstetricians intervene to manage shoulder dystocia by employing different maneuvers, some gentle and some more invasive. If the doctor cannot reposition the baby by externally pushing, these maneuvers entail reaching inside the birth canal and rotating the child out of danger. The obstetrician must take care when attempting any maneuver to prevent harm to the child or mother.

Long Term Consequences of Newborn Collarbone Injuries

Broken collarbone (clavicle) injuries occur to 1 in every 50 newborn babies. Most fractured or broken bones heal quickly and easily, leaving young victims without permanent injuries. However, some children will suffer the following long-term consequences: 

  • Brachial plexus injuries
  • Erb’s Palsy
  • Klumpke’s Palsy
  • Permanent nerve damage

Brachial Plexus Injuries

The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves that lies very close to the clavicle, running from the spinal cord across the upper chest and down the arm on both sides. It is responsible for movement and sensation in the shoulder, arm, elbow, wrist and hand. 

The main complication associated with clavicle injury is the inability to move the arm due to damage to the brachial plexus. Of all newborns who experience a clavicle fracture during birth, 1 in 11 will have damage to their brachial plexus. Damage to the brachial plexus can lead to permanent paralysis or muscle weakness.

Erb’s Palsy

Most children who sustain brachial plexus injuries will have the upper brachial plexus nerves injured. This can result in a child unable to move the shoulder, but able to retain control over the fingers. The resulting condition is often referred to as Erb’s Palsy.

The most common and direct results of Erb’s Palsy is the loss of sensation and movement in the affected arm. Many of the arm’s muscles are likely to atrophy without constant physical therapy, which can further lead to motion and muscle control impairments. 

Klumpke’s Palsy and Horner’s Syndrome

Klumpke’s palsy involves a degree of injury to the lowest nerves of the brachial plexus. Injury to this area typically impairs the wrist, hand, and fingers. 

Nerve damage to this degree and location often causes Horner’s syndrome. This complication can cause a drooping eyelid and permanently constricted pupil in addition to hand and wrist impairments.

Is Every Collarbone Injury at Birth the Result of Medical Malpractice?

Babies sometimes suffer birth injuries through no fault of an obstetrician, nurse, or medical professional. Despite high expectations, doctors can’t prevent every birth injury. Even the most experienced, educated physicians can’t avoid certain risks with such a complex medical situation. However, some broken clavicles are caused by medical malpractice

Personal Injury vs Medical Malpractice Claims

Both personal injury and malpractice law serve the same purpose: to correct a civil wrong when an individual is injured through no fault of their own. Medical malpractice is a subset of personal injury with many areas of similarity, but medical malpractice cases are much more complex. They deal exclusively with nuances related to medical and hospital care and require extensive time and research.

In most personal injury cases, the person who committed the harm will most likely admit fault. The same cannot be said for medical malpractice. Malpractice suits are harder to prove as they are more likely to require an expert witness to support any claim against healthcare professionals. A personal injury claim can be made against anyone, while a medical malpractice claim is more narrow in scope with a much lower success rate. 

The deadline to file a medical malpractice lawsuit is different than the deadline to file a personal injury lawsuit. In New York, personal injury claims have a statute of limitations of three years from the date of injury. The statute of limitations for malpractice claims is two years and six months from the date of malpractice. Both types of lawsuits require proving that at-fault party’s:

A quality attorney can help assess which legal course is most effective for a particular claim. In any case, proving negligence is the core component for a successful malpractice lawsuit. 

Malpractice Lawsuits for Newborn Collarbone Injuries

Medical professionals make mistakes that sometimes go on to cause severe damage and intense suffering. In some cases, doctors and nurses can be found liable for the careless disregard for the safety of patients. Medical negligence is the main component of every malpractice claim

Violating the Standard of Care

To prove medical negligence, the plaintiff’s legal team must define the standard of care. The standard of care is what doctors, nurses and other medical professionals should have done under the circumstances that resulted in birth trauma. For example, in cases where a baby is larger than average, an emergency c-section may be the appropriate option to preserve health.

Next, attorneys will work with independent medical experts to understand how the medical team deviated from the standard of care and violated protocol. In the example above, attempting a vaginal delivery with a large baby may be a violation of the standard of care (given the severe risks of shoulder dystocia, oxygen deprivation and a broken collarbone).

Proving Causation and Damages

After defining the standard of care and outlining how the medical team breached it, attorneys will go on to prove that the violation directly caused the child’s injuries. It must be demonstrated how the child and family were harmed by the injury to arrive at financial damages that can be claimed in the lawsuit. For instance, it would be necessary to prove the person pulled too hard when delivering the baby, causing nerve damage. This involves extensive research and documentation to go against medical companies that fight on behalf of doctors. 

Newborn Collarbone Injury Settlements

*Sobo & Sobo does not cite actual settlement values for our clients’ cases, even anonymously, for reasons of privacy. From time to time we may include publicly available individual case histories and ranges of general, US settlement values that are published by reliable sources. These, however, should not be interpreted as representing Sobo & Sobo cases or suggest future outcomes at Sobo & Sobo.

There is no typical birth injury case since every situation, baby, and injury is different. This makes it nearly impossible to estimate an average settlement amount. Settlements range from thousands to millions of dollars. Settlement amounts are based on:

  • The severity of the injury to the child
  • Impact on the quality of life of the child and parents
  • Cost of immediate and future medical expenses
  • Degree of recklessness or straying from the professional standard by the physician 

Examples of Collarbone Injury Settlement Values

*Sobo & Sobo does not cite actual settlement values for our clients’ cases, even anonymously, for reasons of privacy. From time to time we may include publicly available individual case histories and ranges of general, US settlement values that are published by reliable sources. These, however, should not be interpreted as representing Sobo & Sobo cases or suggest future outcomes at Sobo & Sobo.

Examples include:

  • $6 million due to a delay in recognizing fetal distress, resulting in brachial plexus injury and Horner’s syndrome
  • $800,000 due to improperly handling shoulder dystocia and causing injury by vacuum extraction, resulting in Erb’s palsy and shoulder dysfunction

All medical malpractice attorneys are personal injury attorneys, but not every personal injury attorney is a medical malpractice attorney. It’s important to speak with a quality legal team with experience to help determine the best legal action and the amount of compensation the victim may be entitled to. 

What Do I Do If My Baby is Injured During Birth?

Signs of a clavicle fracture include:

  • Non-stop crying
  • Swelling of the injured area
  • Little to no movement of the arm on the injured side
  • A droop in the injured shoulder so it sits lower than the other

Parents pursuing a lawsuit should speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. They will then have to gather evidence of negligence, possibly including:

  • Up to date medical records
  • Reports of treatments performed on the mother and/or child
  • X-rays and other images of the injured body part
  • Expert witnesses who can testify that the defendant was not properly performing their duty 

Even if it is not certain whether a physician breached their duty and caused the serious birth injury, it is still highly advised to contact a lawyer.

Contact a New York Birth Injury Lawyer

Parents or guardians may have the right to pursue a lawsuit on behalf of a collarbone injury at birth. If a doctor’s violation of accepted medical standards led to your child’s injuries, your family may be eligible to recover financial compensation. To learn more about your legal options, contact the experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Sobo & Sobo online or call 855-468-7626.