Shoulder dystocia management blamed for brachial plexus injury and brain damage


A New York woman delivered her child in 2003 with a shoulder dystocia. After delivery, the infant was diagnosed with a brachial plexus injury and subsequently was found to have brain damage, with delays in speech and swallowing. In her lawsuit, the woman claimed that the 8 or 9 minutes that it took to relieve the dystocia resulted in asphyxiation of the infant.

The physician claimed that the dystocia had been relieved within 2 minutes with the use of McRoberts' maneuver and the application of suprapubic pressure. The defense argued that only minimal force was applied to relieve the shoulder dystocia, that the fetal heart rate monitoring did not indicate any oxygen deprivation, and that the infant had good Apgars of 7 and 8. She contended that the developmental delays and problems did not appear until the second year of life and were because of autism.

The jury found the physician and her group 75% liable for the injuries, and the hospital was charged with 25% responsibility. The patient was awarded damages of $60.9 million.

MS COLLINS is an attorney specializing in medical malpractice in Long Beach, California. She welcomes feedback on this column via e-mail to

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