Settlement achieved for a man left with debilitating bladder and bowel dysfunction following spinal injury

Dr Mala Sidebottom has secured compensation for a 52 year old man who underwent spinal surgery in 2004, resulting in sexual dysfunction and bowel and bladder disturbance.

In late 2003, our client presented to his GP complaining of difficulties in mobility going back several years.  He was referred to a neurologist at the first Defendant Trust (Trust 1), who referred our client for nerve conduction and EMG studies.  Although the EMG studies were reported, on 13 April 2004, as showing changes which were probably related to an adult onset spinal muscular atrophy or a form of neuropathy, no follow up appointment was arranged.

Our client had also been referred to a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Trust 1.  The EMG report was not made available to him.  An MRI scan was undertaken and reported as showing marked central canal stenosis at the T12/L1 level.  Myelomalacia (softening of the spinal cord which is commonly caused by compression) was noted.

Following this, our client was referred to and seen by a consultant neurosurgeon at Trust 2, who made a diagnosis of classical conus lesion with thoracolumbar stenosis.  Our client was advised to undergo decompressive spinal surgery.  The neurosurgeon was not aware of the findings of the EMG studies.

On 14 July 2004 spinal surgery was carried out.  As a consequence of the operation our client was left with saddle anaesthesia, sexual dysfunction and bowel and bladder problems.

In February 2013 our client became aware of the findings of the April 2004 EMG nerve conduction test. He was subsequently referred to a neurologist who carried out genetic testing, which confirmed a gene mutation resulting in distal hereditary motor neuropathy.

Our client’s spinal injury claims case was that, had his symptoms been properly investigated, he would not have been referred for surgery.  In the alternative, the neurosurgeon would have been aware, and would have told our client, that he had distal hereditary motor neuropathy.  Our client would not have been advised to undergo surgery and, most importantly, would not have agreed to surgery.  In any event, he would not have developed bladder and bowel disturbance and sexual dysfunction.

Our client’s difficulties have had a significant psychological effect upon him.  Progression of his hereditary motor neuropathy is likely to impact on his ability to self-catheterise in later life.  Compensation sought included that for his pain and suffering, loss of earnings, care and additional costs of air travel.

Although it was admitted by Trust 1 that there ought to have been a follow-up appointment with the neurologist, it was not admitted, until an amended Defence was served in June 2017, that the neurosurgeon ought to have been informed that EMG studies had been undertaken, and of their results.  Trust 2 maintained that the neurosurgeon had made the correct diagnosis and denied that it was negligent to advise our client to undergo spinal surgery.  In the Defence it was stated that our client would have suffered similar problems in any event, without surgery.   It was also not admitted that our client would not have consented to the surgery, had he known that he was suffering from a hereditary motor neuropathy.

Our client was invited to a round table meeting in May 2017 where, unfortunately, the parties were not able to reach settlement, as they were very far apart in their respective valuations of the case.

Experts were instructed in six different specialities.  In the neurosurgical experts’ discussion it was agreed that it was a breach of duty not to make a referral to a specialist by the neurosurgeon.

The case settled, in May 2018, for £700,000, 5 months before trial.

Nigel Spencer Ley was instructed in this case.  Tim Spring and Mala Sidebottom handled the case on behalf of our clinical negligence solicitors team.

Our client said:  “I’m so glad I decided to contact Moore Blatch in 2014 when other solicitors had been quite dismissive about my case.  I don’t think my case could have been handled any better.  I can now look to the future with a lot more confidence and positivity.”

Mala said:  “I hope this case highlights the importance of fully exploring the cause of any symptoms before offering major surgery.  My client’s case was that, had he been advised properly, he would not have undergone surgery and would have avoided his devastating symptoms.  I am pleased that he now has peace of mind about his future.  I hope that this settlement helps to make life a little easier for him so that he can enjoy his life to the fullest.”