Substantial settlement for misdiagnosed spinal injury victim

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Substantial settlement for misdiagnosed spinal injury victim

23rd March 2011

A man who broke his spine in three places in a road traffic collision has received more than £650,000 in damages, after doctors sent him home from hospital saying he was merely suffering with whiplash.

The victim, who had pre-existing spinal cord injuries, had been airlifted to hospital after losing control of his vehicle and crashing on a slippery stretch of road notorious for accidents. But after being x-rayed and examined by doctors - and despite being unable to move his right arm - he was discharged and told to go home.

Lisa Fountain, a personal injury specialist at Fentons Solicitors LLP, said her client had described the collision at an accident black-spot near his home as like 'driving on ice.' "The back-end of his vehicle slid out as he entered the bend and skidded into the path of two oncoming cars, scraping the side of the first before being hit and spun around by the second," said Lisa, an associate with the firm.

"He was cut from his vehicle and airlifted to a nearby hospital with suspected spinal injuries. I was astonished that doctors treating a disabled man with pre-existing spinal injuries did not examine his legs or his immobile arm," said Lisa. "Instead, he was simply given painkillers, sent home and told to exercise his neck, advice which could have had life-threatening consequences for my client."

Following the accident, the council re-surfaced the road after tests revealed the skid surface was well below acceptable levels. Despite a number of collisions having occurred at the same location prior to this incident and numerous complaints being made, no action was taken until after the man's accident.

"My client initially requested I represent him against the council responsible for the shocking state of the road," said Lisa. "He then asked to retain our services once it became clear just how badly doctors had failed in their duty of care towards him."

It was more than two weeks after his collision that the client noticed his left leg had become swollen having become increasingly concerned with the lack of movement in his neck and arm. "After calling his GP, my client attended his local hospital where an x-ray revealed a fractured left upper tibia," said Lisa. "He was referred back to the original treating hospital and after again telling doctors he could not move his neck and right arm, he was finally sent for an MRI scan and received x-rays to his neck, arms and legs.

"Incredibly, on top of his fractured tibia, my client was told he had sustained three separate spinal fractures as well as a broken rib," said Lisa. "It is unacceptable that none of these injuries were detected by doctors when he was first examined following his accident. A CT scan of his injuries revealed that he had suffered a transverse fracture through the base of the odontoid peg, an injury which could have had life-threatening consequences if left untreated."

Despite the victim then being told his condition was critical and he was to be transferred for urgent surgery, he remained in the hospital for a further six days whilst waiting for a bed to become free. Following a successful spinal fixation procedure, he was transferred to another hospital where his fractured leg was treated. He was then discharged - despite still being unable to move his neck and right arm.

"The client returned to hospital over a month later and was referred for nerve conduction treatment for his immobile arm," said Lisa. "He was then made to wait a further two months before he finally attended a consultation, where my client was told he had suffered a brachial plexus injury and would be placed on a waiting list to be treated. He specifically remembers the consultant stating that if his nerve injury had been diagnosed immediately after the accident, he would have been treated as an emergency case and been seen straight away."

It was a further two months later - a total of eight months after his accident - when the client was finally seen by specialists who were only able to repair one of two damaged nerves as the other was deemed irreparable.

"Because of his pre-existing spinal injuries, the injury he sustained has had a devastating impact on his ability to use his dominant right arm," said Lisa. "This is the arm he relies upon to help transfer himself in and out of his wheelchair.

"The treatment my client received from two NHS Trusts fell well below which is to be expected," she added. "The injuries he sustained and the subsequent medical negligence he suffered have caused him pain and reduced his overall mobility and quality of life. If my client's brachial plexus injury diagnosis and treatment hadn't been delayed for so long, he would have regained more power and control over his shoulder movement."

After being wheelchair-dependent for many years, the client had learnt to live a full, active and independent life. He was independent in all aspects of daily life, including travelling, cooking, dressing, washing and working. The lack of movement and strength in his right arm suffered as a result of his accident is severely restrictive, unlikely to improve and now significantly impedes his ability to transfer to or from his wheelchair.

"My client can no longer access the upper floor of his house," said Lisa. "He has difficulty getting in and out of his car, he is now unable to swim and he struggles with cooking, cleaning, washing and gardening.

"The interim payments we were able to secure and the settlement he has now received will help towards paying for the aids, equipment, house adaptations and future care and assistance he needs to overcome the huge obstacles he will continue to face for the rest of his life."

After a highly fought case against the council responsible for the road surface, Lisa negotiated a settlement of £285,000 on behalf of her client when liability was partially admitted. She then settled the claim against the two hospital trusts for £375,000 after they accepted liability for their failure to diagnose and treat the client's injuries at an earlier stage.

How can Fentons Solicitors help?
Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims for victims of spinal cord injury, road traffic collisions and relating tomedical negligence.

If you think that you have a case or require further information, contact Fentons on 0800 019 1297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.