Spinal Cord Injury Claims for Compensation
According to the World Health Organisation, every year across the globe, between a quarter and half a million people suffer a spinal injury. Currently in the UK, around 40,000 people are living with long term disabilities due to spinal injury and every year, approximately 1,000 new people sustain a spinal cord injury. While the majority of these injures are due to trauma from violent attacks such as gun shots, road traffic accidents and falls, some are due to medical negligence and can be followd up by a spinal cord injury lawyer.
The jelly-like spinal cord is located along your back and is protected by the vertebral bones comprising your spinal column. The cord passes up through your neck and connects with your brain. The spinal cord is a collection of 31 pairs of nerves that are responsible for relaying messages throughout your body and it is vital for the smooth running of normal body functions, both conscious and unconscious.
Symptoms of spinal cord injury
Spinal injury symptoms depend on the location of the damage to the spinal cord and the severity of the injury. If the injury is completely across the spinal cord, there can be no nerve function below the level of the injury, but in incomplete injuries, some nerve function below the injury can remain. Symptoms of spinal injury include paralysis, problems with breathing and going to the toilet, weakness, numbness and chronic pain. What is more, people with spinal injury are 2-5 times more likely to die prematurely than people without a spinal injury. Even with the best treatment, spinal injuries are likely to result in impairment that is unresponsive to therapy and are therefore on the whole, untreatable.
Living with spinal injury can be challenging. There is increased risk of developing additional medical conditions such as pressure sores and infections. A significant number of people with spinal injury develop depression. Children and adults with spinal cord injury are more likely to be disadvantaged socially and economically.
Spinal cord injury due to medical negligence
While living with a spinal injury is challenging enough, what if it happened due to medical negligence, at the hands of people who are supposed to provide care? Medical negligence occurs when there is a duty of care to a patient, but this duty of care is breached and results in harm, in this case spinal injury. There are many potential causes for spinal injury due to medical negligence, some of which are outlined below. If any of these cases apply to yourselves, please get in touch with our spinal cord injury solicitors right away.
Missed diagnosis of spinal trauma
A significant percentage of people who have suffered trauma, will have sustained an injury which could result in spinal cord injury if not managed correctly. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Care Excellence provides clear guidelines on how to manage patients if a spinal injury is suspected, in order to protect the spine from further damage. For example, if there is suspicion that a patient may have suffered a spinal injury, they should be correctly immobilised using a spinal board and cervical collar. Any transfers are to be carefully managed, to ensure that unstable spinal vertebrae are not inadvertently manipulated, damaging the spinal cord. Appropriate airway management is vital to reduce the risk of hypoxia. Breaches in these guidelines either before or during admission to hospital could result in permanent spinal cord damage.
Malpractice during surgery and other medical procedures
With any surgery on the spine and spinal cord there are risks of complications, including pain and impairment. Even medical procedures unrelated to the spine can put the spinal cord at risk. For example, a procedure known as bronchial artery embolisation, used to visualise the blood supply to the lungs can be a risky medical procedure. This is because, for some people, the spinal artery is shared with the bronchial artery and the introduction of the necessary chemicals could result in blockage of the spinal artery, leading to spinal injury.
While spine surgery can result in complications such as bleeding, direct injury to the spinal cord and infection, some of these complications can be due to medical negligence and are not just an inevitable consequence of the surgical procedure.
Insufficient blood flow to the spinal cord
Reduced blood flow to the spinal cord can be due to several different factors such as:
- low blood pressure due to bleeding, mismanagement of medication, or an underlying medical condition such as a heart arrythmia or an autoimmune disorder
- misdiagnosis of a structural problem such as vertebral fracture, a tumour or a disc problem
- blockage of blood flow due to clots
For example, the British Medical Journal recently published a report about a consultant neurosurgeon who gave his patient heparin 3 hours after spinal surgery. She suffered a bleed which resulted in spinal damage and permanent disability. The surgeon was found negligent in court and the lady was awarded compensation.
Toxin damage may be as a result of infection or inappropriate introduction of chemicals into the spinal area, such as chemotherapy or pain medication.
Another rare but fatal error is when cancer treatments are mixed up. Lymphoma and leukaemia are often treated with a combination of Vincristine and Methotrexate. While Methotrexate is safe to be given directly into the spinal canal, Vincristine is not. For, Vincristine causes damage to the spinal cord and brain and results in death. Sadly, there have been at least 120 cases of this entirely avoidable error over the last 40 years.
Procedures which involve breaching of the skin around the spine can also lead to spinal infection and damage. For example, while Baclofen delivered by an implanted pump into the spinal canal can reduce spasticity associated with cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis, it can also result in complications, including infection with life threatening bacteria such as MRSA.
Spinal cord injury of a baby during birth is rare. However, difficult deliveries such as breach presentation with foetal head entrapment, face presentation or cephalic presentation can lead to spinal injury of the baby. Spinal injury is also associated with forceps-assisted breech vaginal deliveries. Bruising of the spine or tearing of the spinal tissues can result in life-long impairment. The tragedy of these cases is that spotting the problem early and opting for a planned caesarean section can prevent these injuries.
We are here to help
Given the complexity around spinal cord injuries it can be difficult to determine whether or not medical negligence was a contributing factor. However, it is important to find out, for if medical negligence did play a role, you may be entitled to claim compensation for any injuries. The likelihood of permanent impairment makes a successful claim even more important.
Navigating the law around spinal cord injury claims can be tricky. That is why, if you think you have a spinal cord injury due to medical negligence you should get in touch with our specialist lawyers at Osbornes. We can advise you whether you have a claim and we will guide you through the process.
Our Promise to You
- We will review your potential claim by advising you on the NHS complaints procedure or other alternative procedure if your case does not relate to NHS care and treatment.
- We will not charge a fee for our time in reviewing your case.
- We can assist you with any issues that you may have regarding the complaints procedure or that you encounter in obtaining copies of your medical records.
- We will advise you of the course of action in respect to your case