Damages when elderly patient suffers loss of visual acuity | Fieldfisher
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Case Study

Damages when elderly patient suffers loss of visual acuity

In 1995 Agnes, a woman of Greek Cypriot origin who spoke little English, was diagnosed as suffering from a cataract affecting her right eye.

In January 1997, when she was aged 73, surgery was recommended. Agnes did not wish for the operation to be performed under local anaesthetic, and was referred to the Royal Free Hospital for the operation to be performed under a general anaesthetic. 

In April 1997, Agnes was telephoned by a Greek speaking doctor from the Royal Free who said that due to a cancellation she could undergo the operation at short notice. 

When she attended for the pre-operative assessment at the hospital, the Greek doctor persuaded her to undergo the operation under local anaesthetic ignoring her expressions of anxiety at this prospect. 

Agnes was admitted for surgery on 15 April 1997. As soon as the drapes were put over her head and face, she expressed anxiety and as the operation proceeded, she became panic-stricken, sweating and shaking. The Greek doctor told her to keep still or she would be blinded. 

In the event, the posterior capsule ruptured during lens implantation and she had to undergo laser surgery post operatively to remove a vitreous strand incarcerated in the surgical wound. She suffered a permanent loss of potential visual acuity in her right eye.

The Royal Free Hospital at an early stage indicated their desire to settle the claim without an admission of liability. The hospital’s expert’s report agreed that the capsule probably would not have ruptured if the operation had been performed under a general anaesthetic. 

However, the hospital disputed the extent of visual acuity lost. The defendant argued, that nothing should be recovered for a percentage loss of potential acuity as damages are not recoverable for loss of a chance.  In the event, the claim was settled for £10,000 without issue of proceedings. 

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