Summary of background

DF instructed Russell-Cooke LLP to investigate a clinical negligence claim against the Defendant trust in respect of spinal surgery performed at St Mary's Hospital on the Isle of Wight on 18th May 2004. 

DF was referred to the hospital in 2002 with a history of lower back pain.  He was found to have signs of degenerative change in his back and was referred for physiotherapy.  However, the Claimant continued to experience pain in the lower lumbar region which radiated to his left leg.  He was advised to undergo surgery to fuse his spine at the lumbar 5 and sacral 1 vertebra (L5/S1).  This was performed on 18th May 2004. 

After the surgery, DF complained to staff that he was experiencing numbness and pain in his right leg and foot.  This was different to the pain he had suffered pre-operatively.  His surgeon suggested that the left L5 screw might have 'migrated' and could be irritating the L4 nerve root.  Revision surgery was consequently performed on 28th May 2004 in order to investigate and, if necessary, correct the screw position. 

However, DF continued to experience tingling and numbness in his right foot and leg.  He was  nevertheless discharged home on 5th June 2004. The abnormal sensation and pain persisted and he subsequently attended the pain clinic at the hospital on several occasions.  DF was put on large doses of analgesic medication and was at one stage given an epidural injection to try to control the pain.

DF also developed worsening pain in his lower back, including an episode of severe and debilitating pain in September 2005 where he was bedridden for some days.   DF partially recovered from this episode but continued to experience difficulty in walking and his right leg tended to give way. 

Claimant's case

Following investigations into a possible legal claim, it was discovered that three of the four screws inserted on 18th May 2004 in order to fuse the joint  had been misplaced. It was alleged that, as a result:

  • The right lower (S1) screw impinged on the right L5 nerve root, causing DF's ongoing right leg and foot pain.
  • The right upper (L5) screw impinged upon the L4/5 facet joint, causing deterioration of the joint and resulting in persistent back pain.
  • The left upper (L5) screw was positioned so that it was sitting outside the pedicle, resulting in the need for revision surgery on 28th May 2004, which should not have been required.

It was also alleged that the Defendant failed to diagnose and act upon these errors post-operatively, save in relation to the left upper L5 screw, despite DF's complaints of pain and altered sensation. 

Defendant's case

Liability was admitted by the Defendant following service of proceedings.

Settlement

Once investigations were concluded, the parties entered into negotiations with a view to reaching settlement.  It was the Claimant's case that, as a result of the negligence, DF would continue to suffer right leg pain and intermittent left leg pain as well as worsening lower back pain in future.  It was alleged that this was likely to prevent him from either returning to his former employment in a manufacturing plant or obtaining any form of paid employment.  It was further contended that DF would require care for the remainder of his life. 

The Claimant received £150,000.00, in addition to his reasonable legal costs.  This included compensation for pain, suffering and loss of amenity, past and future care and loss of DIY/housekeeping/gardening ability and past and future loss of earnings.