Rebecca Ling, from Wickford in Essex, was admitted to The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in 2006 to undergo an operation which would correct the curvature of her spine (scoliosis), a condition which in this case was caused by a genetic condition - Prader-Willi Syndrome.
Throughout the operation Rebecca was connected to a monitor to detect nerve signals in the spinal cord. The purpose of these signals was to alert the surgeon to the possibility that damage was being done to the spinal cord and to allow him to take remedial action to ensure that any such damage was not permanent. During the operation, the signals dropped significantly on two separate occasions. On the first occasion, the surgeon stopped the procedure, gave appropriate drugs and took steps to check whether the drop represented a technical fault with the equipment. As a result, the signals returned to an acceptable level and he continued the operation. When the signals dropped on the second occasion – this time by 80-90% - he chose to continue with the procedure without further pause.
When Rebecca woke up, she was initially unable to move her arms. Over the following hours, the paralysis spread to her legs and then her chest until she was no longer able to breathe without a ventilator. She had previously enjoyed a very active life but now requires, and will require for the rest of her life, round-the-clock care from two carers.
Rebecca's parents, Julia and Andy Ling, instructed Jonathan Zimmern, medical negligence solicitor at law firm Fieldfisher, in a claim against The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. The claim was funded by Legal Aid and the case went to trial in January 2012, where the High Court ruled that the surgeon had been negligent in continuing to operate once the signals dropped so dramatically for the second time. The hospital sought to appeal this decision but the permission was finally refused in January 2013.
Since the High Court's decision, Jonathan has worked to quantify Rebecca's claim and ensure sure that she will have enough money to pay for all of the care and support she so desperately needs. He instructed eight experts to assist with this issue including experts in neurology, care, occupational therapy, accommodation, technology, physiotherapy and speech & language therapy. Rebecca's neurologist argued that she was likely to live for 33 years, not least because of the extraordinary care that her parents had given to her.
The Trust's legal representatives argued that Rebecca would have needed some form of care in any event due to her Prada-Willi Syndrome and also argued that Rebecca's likely life expectancy was only in the region of 17 year. Despite these objections from the Defendant, Jonathan and Barrister Chris Johnston QC were able to secure a lump sum payment of £2,777,261 and annual payments of £352,494 for the rest of Rebecca's life.
These amounts will ensure that Rebecca receives the care and support she needs as well as allowing her to move into an appropriate house and live as independent life as possible. The money will also mean that her parents can stop being nurses, and go back to being what they should have been – Rebecca's mum and dad.
Andy and Julie Rebecca's parents commented on the case…
“This has been absolutely devastating for our family. Before the operation our daughter was a happy, active child who lived a full life, enjoying dancing and horse riding. Now she is unable to move, or feel anything from the neck down. She cannot breathe without a ventilator and needs constant care. We were relieved that the Judge ruled that the hospital was at fault but we were devastated that despite his decision the hospital sought an appeal. Our daughter had to endure an entire, awful year in hospital after she was paralysed, followed by seven more years whilst we tried our best to cope with her at home - financially and emotionally – and fight for compensation. We only hope that the hospital have learnt lessons from what happened to our daughter and that future spinal operations will be undertaken with more caution."
Rebecca's lawyer, Jonathan Zimmern stated
“This was a major but relatively common operation. The tragic consequences that followed could have been avoided had the surgeon acted appropriately when the signals monitoring her spine dropped to such a worrying level. The case was contested by the hospital throughout the five years the litigation lasted before the trial in 2012 and again the following year whilst they sought to appeal. The Trust made no attempt to negotiate a settlement, which could have brought matters to a conclusion many years sooner. Today's settlement will ensure that Rebecca will have the care and support she needs for the rest of her life."
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