One of the most common types of birth injuries is a fracture of the clavicle, often known as the collarbone. This bone runs from the chest to the shoulder. A clavicle fracture may result from shoulder dystocia, which occurs when the shoulder of the baby gets lodged behind the pubic bone of the mother. Other factors that may result in a clavicle fracture include:
A doctor may suspect a broken collarbone if the baby cannot move their arm and lets it hang close to their body. A baby also may show signs of distress, such as cries of pain, when they are lifted underneath the arm, or when the arm is otherwise moved. Sometimes a clavicle fracture makes the shoulders of the baby look crooked. If they observe signs of this injury, a doctor can search for a fracture by using imaging tests, such as X-rays and ultrasounds. Although a bump may appear at the location of the injury, the bone often will heal on its own. A doctor may provide a sling to stabilize the arm by keeping it pinned to the chest.
Complications of Clavicle Fractures
By itself, a clavicle fracture usually is not cause for alarm. The bone likely will heal without problems, allowing a baby to develop normally. Sometimes a child suffers serious complications from a clavicle fracture, though, especially if a doctor does not recognize and address the condition promptly. A child may suffer from joint damage, muscle atrophy, and impingements on their range of motion. However, the most notable complication of a clavicle fracture involves damage to the brachial plexus.
What Is the Brachial Plexus?
The brachial plexus is a group of nerves near the collarbone that sends messages from the spinal cord to the shoulder, arm, and hand.
Brachial plexus injuries can result in a loss of function in the affected arm. While Erb’s palsy typically involves the shoulder and upper arm, Klumpke’s palsy tends to affect the forearm and hand. Children generally recover from these conditions, but sometimes they result in permanent disabilities. The recovery process can be arduous, moreover, involving physical and occupational therapy. Some severe cases may require surgery.
Legal Claims Based on Clavicle Fractures and Complications
Sometimes a clavicle fracture cannot be prevented. The size of the fetus or the birth canal may cause pressure that naturally results in a fracture. However, clavicle fractures also may occur when a doctor uses excessive force during childbirth or does not properly use forceps or vacuum extractors. In other cases, a baby may suffer a broken collarbone when a doctor uses assistive devices that were not necessary or appropriate under the circumstances.
Doctors Must Act Promptly
Once a clavicle fracture occurs, failing to promptly diagnose and treat this injury may increase the risk of complications, such as brachial plexus injuries.
If parents suspect that their child was injured because a health care provider made avoidable mistakes, they should explore the possibility of bringing a medical malpractice claim. They would need to show that a competent doctor in the same field as the defendant would have handled the situation differently, leading to a better outcome. Damages may include the costs of therapies, surgeries, and other treatments needed to address the clavicle fracture and its complications. If a condition such as Erb’s palsy leads to a permanent disability, a family may recover substantial compensation for future treatment costs. They also can recover damages for the pain and suffering of their child.
Strict statutes of limitations govern birth injury lawsuits, preventing a family from bringing a claim after a certain time has passed. Even if they have a strong case, they likely cannot recover compensation if they file after the statute of limitations expires. This means that parents should consult an attorney as soon as possible if they suspect malpractice.