‘Benjamin’ – Missed diagnosis of a spinal abscess

Case handler: Christopher Lecky (Solicitor)

In this case, our client sustained injury as a result of a failure by those in charge of his hospital care to properly diagnose and treat a spinal abscess which led to organ failure, being placed in an induced coma and spinal cord injury resulting in reduced lower limb power and rendering him a permanent wheelchair user.

Key elements of our client’s case

We were initially contacted by our client’s wife seven months after his initial hospital treatment when she requested a Spinal Injury Guide. At that point he was still an inpatient in a specialist spinal injury rehabilitation unit. Subsequent contact with her revealed that her husband had initially been admitted to hospital with severe back pain. The initial diagnosis by the treating team was that he may had been had an epidural abscess.

Our client had been scanned but no abscess was identified, however, he then suffered organ failure and spent over a week in an induced coma in an intensive care unit. When he awoke he had severely reduced limb power. There was a subsequent delay in rescanning him such that his abscess continued to go untreated and operative intervention did not proceed until a month later.

Before we could commence legal proceedings a full liability investigation was required.

Where our specialist serious injury experience really added value to our client’s situation

Undertaking a full investigation of our client’s treatment presented a number of challenges.

Firstly, the Defendant Trust provided all records and images except the all important scan taken on our client’s initial attendance at hospital. Such was the extent of the difficulty in securing this imaging that an application was made to the Court to force the Defendant Trust to release the relevant disc containing the scan. This application resulted in the Defendant Trust releasing the scan to us.

There then ensued considerable input from liability experts in the forms of neuroradiology and spinal surgery. There were complex issues surrounding the timing of the damage and the exact date by which appropriate medical treatment would have avoided any long term injury.

Our client’s case alleged negligence against the Defendant based on, amongst other things, a failure to identity the abscess on the original scan, a failure to rescan our client when he presented with marked neurological decline and generally a delay in treatment.

A partial liability admission was received from the Defendant indicating they would be disputing that their failures caused his ongoing problems. However, the partial admission was sufficient to secure an interim payment for the client.

The Court subsequently allowed the Defendants a longer time period to file their Defence to our client’s legal proceedings which when received noted that the Defendant had abandoned their previous arguments and made a 100% admission of liability.

The case on quantum then progressed with a trial ultimately listed for May 2021.

Both sides obtained expert evidence from:

  • Spinal Consultant;
  • Care;
  • Occupational Therapy;
  • Accommodation;
  • Physiotherapy;
  • Psychiatry;
  • Cardiology.

Reaching settement

A Joint Settlement Meeting was conducted virtually and a successful outcome was achieved after numerous offers were made by each party.

Our client’s case was settled based on a complex staged annual payment to meet anticipated increased care need associated with age and injury related decline, the extent of which was largely agreed by the parties but the stages and cost of the same was the primary issue in dispute during the negotiations.

Our client ultimately achieved a substantial seven figure settlement, in addition to an annual payment relating to his aforementioned care regime which will continue for the rest of his life.

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