Case Study: Missed Fracture of Back in Patient Who Later Died

Compensation: £138,000

Frank, 68

JMW has helped the family of a man secure £138,000 compensation following doctors failure to diagnose a fracture in his back, which proved to be a crucial factor in his tragic death.

Engineer Frank was left paralysed from the waist down after appalling errors meant a fracture to his spine went undiagnosed. Tragically, due to the paralysis, Frank developed a pressure sore which became so severe that it contributed to his death. However, the specialist medical negligence team at JMW was able to continue the claim on behalf of Frank’s family to help them to cope with the financial fall-out of their loss.

Workplace accident

Frank’s ordeal began when he fell off a ladder at work, landing on his behind. The accident has been caused by the negligence of Frank’s employers, who, after a claim was brought by JMW Solicitors, admitted liability and paid Frank compensation. However although Frank’s initial injury was caused by this accident it was the poor care that he received in hospital that was to devastate any chance of him making a recovery.

For several years Frank had suffered from a condition called spinal spondylosis, which causes degeneration of the spine and makes it more difficult to identify fractures on X-rays This means that it is crucial that greater care is taken when ordering and examining X-rays and it should be appreciated that fractures might not be visible.

When the ambulance crew arrived to take Frank to hospital he told them that he suffered from this condition and they recorded it in their notes. After arriving at hospital and being seen by a triage nurse Frank was examined by a doctor. However, the doctor failed to heed the fact that Frank had spondylosis and did not carry out full examinations of his spine and his neurological condition. The doctor did, however, order X-rays of his lower spine and pelvis.

X-rays reviewed

When a senior doctor reviewed the X-rays he decided that they did not show any fracture and sent him home with pain relief without doing an assessment of his spinal condition. In actual fact as well as showing that Frank was suffering from spondylosis, the X-rays also showed signs of damage to two of his lower vertebrae which had been sustained in the fall. Rather than being sent home Frank should have been referred immediately to an orthopaedic surgeon for an urgent operation.

There was then a delay in the review of the X-rays by the radiologist by which time Frank had already been left paralysed.


One morning, about four days after his accident, Frank found that he was unable to pass urine, his left leg was numb and his back was painful. An ambulance was called and after being taken to hospital Frank was examined by a doctor who wrongly decided he had a urological problem and referred him to a urologist.

In light of the fact that Frank had suffered a fall, had a history of spondylitis, was suffering from back pain, the X-rays showed signs of a fracture and he was now having problems with his legs and bladder function he required urgent spinal and neurological examination and a referral to an orthopaedic surgeon. However this was not done and as a result his spinal cord became compressed.

Frank was eventually referred to another hospital for spinal surgery almost a week after he had suffered the fall. However by this point it was too late to prevent permanent damage and Frank ended up in a wheelchair, paralysed from the waist down and doubly incontinent. If the doctors who initially saw him had treated him with appropriate care then he would have undergone urgent spinal surgery and would have recovered the feeling in the lower part of his body.

The claim

After Frank contacted the specialist medical negligence team at JMW for advice about his hospital treatment his case was taken on by Eddie Jones, head of the department. Tragically Frank’s paralysis led to him developing a severe pressure sore which contributed to his death while the claim was still ongoing. However, Eddie was able to secure £138,000 for Frank’s family to help them to cope with the financial fallout from his death.

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