Case Study: Poor Care for Spinal Injury Causes Disability

Compensation: £775,000

Richard, 81

Richard was left wheelchair bound due to weakness in all four limbs (quadriparesis) caused by a spinal condition which did not receive the appropriate medical attention. After Richard’s case was taken on by Olivia Scates, a partner in the JMW medical negligence team, the hospital admitted the errors and agreed to pay Richard £750,000 in compensation to help him to cope, by covering the cost of such things as adaptations to his home.

Another trust also paid Richard a further £25,000 for errors made with a separate knee injury that was also made worse by the poor spine care. 

Joint disease

When Richard was 75 he developed neck pain and strange ‘shooting’ sensations down his right arm and into his hand. After visiting his GP with the complaint he was referred to a hospital doctor specialising in pain management who arranged for an MRI scan of his spine to be carried out. 

The MRI scan revealed that Richard was suffering from severe degenerative joint disease throughout the whole of his spine, which was being compressed in at least two places. Richard was referred to a neurologist and both the neurologist and the pain management doctor tried to control his symptoms over the following year with medication and epidural injections 

However Richard’s condition did not improve and he was put on the waiting list for spinal surgery.

Spinal surgery

After being on the waiting list for several months the surgery was carried out. 

Unfortunately the surgeon carried out the operation at the wrong level of the spine, which Richard was never informed about. However, luckily for Richard this did not cause him any immediate injury. Coincidentally, unrelated to the surgery there was some improvement in Richard’s symptoms.

Further surgery

When Richard attended a follow-up appointment the surgeon recommended a further operation. This was despite not carrying out a neurological examination or informing Richard that there had been a mistake with regard to the original operation. 

The surgeon was quite keen to carry out the second operation as soon as possible and being none-the-wiser about the reason for this Richard agreed. However after it was completed Richard’s condition deteriorated significantly, which was probably due to a haematoma (collection of blood) at the site of the spine where the epidural had been administered.

He required urgent review by a neurologist and further surgery to relieve increasing pressure on his spinal cord. However neither of these steps were carried out until the following day, when he underwent a decompression operation. This operation failed, as did a further one that was carried out three days later. 

Richard was left with severe and permanent nerve damage and weakness in all four limbs (quadriparesis) due to the catalogue of errors that were made resulting in his becoming wheelchair dependent. If the first operation had been carried out correctly as it ought to have been then this would have been avoided. 

Successful claim 

Richard and his family sought help from Olivia Scates, a partner in JMW’s medical negligence team, who helped them to challenge this poor care. The hospital trust admitted the appalling errors and the spinal claim was settled for £750,000. Richard was awarded a further £25,000 for a knee injury that was not treated appropriately by another hospital and was made worse by the quadriparesis that he suffered as a result of the poor spinal care. 

Have you or a loved one also suffered lasting effects following poor care for an injury?

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