Case study: Misdiagnosis of a Spinal Problem

Compensation: £685,648

Jackie, 54 years old, Lincolnshire

JMW has secured over £680,000 in compensation for an elderly man after doctors misdiagnose a serious spinal injury leading to life-changing complications that could have easily been avoided.

Following 2 years of pain in her legs and frequent falls Jackie was seen in the orthopaedic clinic at her local hospital. She was referred to a specialist neurology unit a month later. She was admitted for a EMG (electromyography) study of the legs which showed abnormal features suggestive of denervation atrophy. 

The consultant wrote to Jackie’s GP stating that the denervation changes supported a diagnosis of chronic spinal muscular atrophy. He also advised that the condition was likely to continue and was untreatable.   Her condition continued to deteriorate and two years later she required a stair lift and a wheelchair as well as a walking frame. Within four years she required enemas and laxatives because of bowel dysfunction.

Misdiagnosis was discovered 13 years later

Thirteen years after her initial consultation Jackie was examined by another neurologist.  He checked the results of the earlier investigations and noted that the cranial and arm nerves seemed normal whereas the legs were completely paralysed.  He suggested further investigations.  A MRI scan was performed which showed a large lesion displacing and compressing the spinal cord. It was thought to be a low grade tumour that had been present for many years and was almost certainly the principal cause of Jackie’s neurological problems. 

Jackie was advised that the diagnosis of chronic spinal muscular atrophy had been incorrect and underwent a laminectomy (removal of the lamina) with marsupialisation (cyst removal) of the tumour.  There was some limited improvement in Jackie’s mobility following surgery, but her bladder and bowel dysfunction remained unchanged.

The claim

JMW Solicitors alleged that the Hospital failed to recognise that all of Jackie’s problems were explicable on the basis of a single spinal lesion. Surgery at that time would most likely have resulted in some improved motor function in her legs, although it was accepted that this may have been limited. However, she would still have managed to walk several hundred yards, could have managed stairs and she would not have required a wheelchair.


An interim payment of £75,000 was made before the case was settled in order to employ a case manager, to set up a regime of professional care for Jackie and to purchase a suitable vehicle and a powered wheelchair.

The case was settled and Jackie received a total of £685,648 compensation.

Have you or a loved one also suffered misdiagnosis?

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