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Five-figure settlement secured after baby developed Erb’s Palsy and permanent facial scarring at birth

A mother and her son have received a settlement from Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust after he suffered permanent facial scarring and Erb’s Palsy (paralysis of the arm) following a traumatic forceps delivery.

Posted on 27 March 2024

The mother, who we have called Sophie, suffered psychiatric injury following the birth. She stated throughout her labour that if there were problems she wanted to give birth by caesarean section. However, a forceps delivery was still attempted despite concerns about the baby’s position and heart rate.

Following her experience, Sophie contacted Leigh Day solicitors to bring a legal claim against the NHS Trust.

Sophie was living in Surrey and was aged 30 when she gave birth to her first child, who we have called Matthew. Sophie was admitted to St Peter’s Hospital’s triage unit in early labour on 12 November 2016, and her dilation progress and Matthew’s heart rate were monitored.

An obstetric registrar found Matthew’s heart rate to be ‘non-reassuring’ and signs of irregular heartbeat (foetal bradycardia) were evident.

Sophie was transferred to theatre. Matthew’s heartbeat remained irregular and began to fall. A vaginal examination showed that Matthew was not lying head down facing his mother’s back as previously thought, but lying head down facing his mother’s front.

The obstetric registrar tried to apply forceps, however they would not lock due to the position of Matthew’s head. The doctor reportedly suggested to the consultant that a caesarean be performed, but this did not happen.

Leigh Day argued that following the unsuccessful attempt to lock the forceps, a further vaginal examination should have taken place to re-check the position of Matthew’s head before the obstetric consultant attempted to apply the forceps.

The delivery was prolonged and complex and the obstetric consultant pulled five times with the forceps before Matthew was born. Leigh Day argued that forceps should not have been used to deliver Matthew and that a caesarean section should have been performed instead to accelerate delivery and ensure maternal and foetal safety.

Following Matthew’s delivery, it was noted that his left arm had minimal movement compared to the rest of his limbs. He also had lacerations to both sides of his face caused by the forceps blades. Leigh Day argued that Erb’s Palsy and facial scarring could and should have been avoided had Matthew been delivered by caesarean section and that his injuries were caused by the failure to recognise that Matthew was in the wrong position, the misapplication of the forceps and the use of too much force during the delivery.

Despite extensive physiotherapy, Matthew, who is now aged 7, has ongoing mild Erb’s Palsy and permanent facial scarring.

Leigh Day argued that Sophie should have been offered a choice of a caesarean section at the point that she was transferred to theatre. She developed PTSD and depression following the birth.

The defendant NHS Trust denied liability but settled the claim for a five-figure sum.

Angharad Vaughan, Leigh Day clinical negligence partner who represented Sophie and Matthew, said:

"Sophie and Matthew endured a traumatic birthing process which could have been less complex and less harmful had appropriate action taken place to deliver Matthew by caesarean section. While a financial settlement cannot undo the trauma they have suffered, they now have the funds they need to access therapy in the future and to move forward.”

Sophie said:

"After an emotional and traumatic ordeal, Leigh Day were incredibly supportive and handled the case with great care. Angharad was always mindful of the impact of having to relive events and always put me at ease; I really appreciate her sensitive handling of the case. Angharad worked hard to get the best outcome for both myself and my son and we trusted her professional advice through the whole process.”

Angharad Vaughan
Birth injury Brain injury Cerebral palsy Inquests Spinal injury Surgical negligence

Angharad Vaughan

Angharad specialises exclusively in medical negligence claims

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