We pursued an orthopaedic negligence claim for Lara after her surgeon caused permanent damage during spinal fusion surgery. Previous solicitors had said that Lara's claim would be unsuccessful so she asked us for a second opinion. We settled the claim for almost £600,000.
In July 1995, Lara, then aged 31, sustained a three column dislocation of her cervical spine following a fall, whilst on a bouncy castle at a neighbour’s party.
Lara was initially taken to Basildon Hospital and later to the Essex Spine Centre under the care of Mr Gardner, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon. Although Mr Gardner recognised the fracture was unstable, he directed the removal of traction and the application of a plastic collar.
A few days later three nurses were moving Lara when her neck dislocated again. Mr Gardner advised spinal fusion surgery was necessary. At this time, Lara had full use of her limbs, but was suffering from tingling in her upper limbs.
Mr Gardner did not obtain an MRI scan of the cervical spine before the spinal fusion surgery. Lara was transferred to the operating table and positioned with just a plastic collar on. Her neck was not in traction during the operation.
Mr Gardner adopted a posterior approach to the surgery, partially reducing the dislocation before passing wires through C5 and C6 of the spinal process. He tightened the wires before reducing the dislocation.
In the recovery ward, Lara couldn't move her legs. She was returned to theatre where the wound was reopened and the wires removed. Post operatively, a significant degree of neurological deficit persisted.
Lara was subsequently transferred to the Spinal Injuries Unit at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore for rehabilitation.
Lara was left with permanent neurological deficit involving the loss of fine movement in her hands, pain in her upper limbs and neck, muscle spasm, poor balance and reduced sensation in all her limbs. These injuries were attributable to the spinal cord damage sustained during the surgery rather than the initial dislocation.
Lara's claim was initially conducted by other solicitors who issued proceedings in July 1998. Those solicitors advised her not to continue.
She then approached us for a second opinion. After speedy investigations we advised that there was a case on the following grounds:
- a lack of spinal traction whilst Lara was at the Spine Centre
- a failure to undertake an MRI scan pre-operatively, which would have revealed the presence of an anterior disc prolapse, which would have caused Mr Gardner to adopt an anterior, rather than a posterior surgical technique. This would have led to a full recovery with no neurological deficit.
Mr Gardner and the hospital were the defendants in the spinal negligence claim. The defendants strongly denied liability up until exchange of expert evidence. Soon after this, the defendants made an admission of negligence.
Valuation of the claim was complicated as Lara has been in the early stages of a career as a commodities broker. Her employers had dismissed her following her injuries. Lara had also started a family and had two children since the accident.
The claim settled shortly before trial for £550,000 plus payment by the defendant of Social Security benefits of over £26,000. The claim was funded by legal expenses insurance.
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