Settlement of Medical Negligence Claims
Spinal injury is a general term which includes injury to the spinal cord or surrounding nerves (a neurological injury) or injury and damage to the spinal vertebra (an orthopaedic injury). As a highly experienced team of specialist medical negligence and personal injury lawyers in London, we act for clients who have suffered spinal or back injuries as a result of an accident.
Claims involving spinal or back injury arise from either a traumatic or non-traumatic event such as:
Clients and their families come to us when they think they might have suffered a spinal injury as a result of negligence. With over 20 years’ of experience in spinal injury work our team can advise on all aspects of this specialism, whether it be a clinical negligence or personal injury claim. Our expertise is recognised by Chambers UK and Legal 500 and our Gold Corporate Partnership with the Spinal Injuries Association. We are also proud to be one of the sponsors of the Riding for the Disabled National Championships.
Typically our clients approach us shortly after sustaining a spine or back injury, and usually while they are still receiving rehabilitation in one of the Spinal Injury Treatment Centres across the country. We recognise the catastrophic nature of a spinal injury and the profound impact it has on clients. We often visit clients in hospital or in their home environment at a time most convenient for them and their family.
At our first meeting we take a full history of the events leading to the spinal injury to assess the merits of pursuing a claim and advise clients on the litigation process and their funding options. Our aim is to provide clear legal advice to clients from the outset and guide them through what is often a difficult and emotive process.
We will communicate with you clearly. We realise that many of our clients have been let down by communication failures, and we know how important it is that you fully understand how your claim is progressing. In addition, we can offer practical help through our wide relationships with case managers, rehabilitation and therapy experts to assist our clients in accessing the right support at the right time.
Our objective is to obtain admissions of liability at the earliest possible opportunity to facilitate interim payment of damages for clients to fund a case manager, the purchase of aids and equipment which are often difficult to receive from local NHS Trusts or a Local Authority and, in the appropriate circumstances, the purchase and adaptation of suitable accommodation. We believe that our approach enables us to achieve the best possible results for our clients.
Spinal injuries rarely stay static and so the needs of our clients often change throughout the litigation process. There is no such thing as an average spinal case; no two spinal injury cases are the same, no two clients are the same. We approach every case in a highly personalised way, tailored to the needs of the client and specific facts of the case. We are not afraid to explore creative solutions. Our aim in every case is to maximise compensation while making the process as painless as possible for our clients.
A spinal injury is damage to any part of the spinal cord. The spinal cord is formed of nerves which connect the brain with the body. It is located in the spinal canal which rests inside the vertebral column. Damage to any part of the spinal cord, or nerves at the end of the spinal canal (the cauda equina), can cause permanent change in sensation, movement and function below the level of the injury, including paralysis. The effect of a spinal cord injury can vary depending on the location and severity of the injury. Symptoms include a change in motor (ability to move) and sensory (the ability to feel) function, loss of movement, inability to feel heat or cold and possibly loss of bladder or bowel sensation.
A spinal injury can be caused by trauma from a sudden, blow to your spine that fractures, dislocates, crushes, or compresses one or more of the vertebrae. For example, this may occur as a result of a road traffic accident or a fall. A non-traumatic injury can occur as a result of arthritis, inflammation, infections or disc degeneration of the spine which can cause compression and therefore damage to the spinal cord. Sometimes these conditions are not diagnosed or treated quickly and this can result in further, and often irreversible, damage.
The collection of nerves at the base of the spine is referred to as the “cauda equina” which is Latin for “horse’s tail”. It consists of the nerves which control the bladder, bowel and movement of the legs.
Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES) describes a condition where the nerves in the lower back become inflamed or compressed. The pressure on the nerves stops them working properly. If the pressure is not treated quickly enough, then CES can result in permanent nerve damage. CES is a medical emergency.
CES is often caused by a prolapsed disc (which is a disc that has moved out of place). Symptoms include numbness in the back passage, bowel and/or bladder incontinence. Often lumbar decompression surgery is needed to treat CES. If the pressure on the nerves is not treated quickly enough, then consequences can include paralysis, bowel and bladder incontinence and other neurological problems.
Spinal cord injuries are classified as “complete” or “incomplete”. A complete spinal cord injury means that the spinal cord is totally damaged at that level. By contrast, an incomplete injury is one where the spinal cord is partially, but not fully, damaged at the level of the injury. The degree of function that remains depends on the extent of the injury. Some muscle function, movement and sensations may well be retained.
Once a spinal cord injury has been identified it will be graded using the ASIA scale. This is an international standardised scale for the classification of spinal cord injuries. There are two main terms used to describe medical conditions that relate to individuals who have sustained a spinal cord injury:
A spinal injury can be life changing. Once a spinal cord injury has been diagnosed, generally the patient will be immobilised by doctors. Any movement could cause further damage. If there is compression or swelling of the spinal cord, then it may be necessary to undertake decompression surgery.
Clinicians and rehabilitation consultants will then work with each patient to prepare a treatment plan. This may involve:
If you have sustained a spinal cord injury it is likely that you will need to change a number of aspects of your daily life and home to accommodate your needs.
Generally, the sooner you speak to a solicitor the better because it is necessary to start obtaining evidence and speaking to witnesses about the circumstances surrounding your injury. Ordinarily, a claim for personal injury (which includes medical / clinical negligence) must be brought within 3 years from the date of the injury, or knowledge that the circumstances leading to the injury may give rise to a claim.
For children, the 3 year limitation period starts to run from their 18th birthday. Adults who do not have the capacity to bring a claim are not subject to a limitation period until they regain capacity.
Cases involving spinal injuries are often very complex and can take years to conclude. We investigate the cause of the injury and, with the aid of experts, assess whether the injuries came about as a result of negligence.
The quantification (putting a value on your claim which then results in a financial award known as “damages”) will also require input from a number of experts. Often this includes rehabilitation consultants, case and care managements experts, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and accommodation experts. We will need to work as a team to understand the impact of the injury so that we obtain adequate compensation which enables you to regain independence and improve your quality of life in the future.
Yes, in certain circumstances we can request an interim payment of damages. In effect this is a part payment of the damages that will be payable upon the conclusion of the case. Interim payments can be substantial, and might cover, for example, the cost of purchasing specially adapted accommodation, specialist rehabilitation equipment, care or therapy.
Damages for personal injury and clinical negligence claims are often paid out by insurance companies; a car insurer in a road traffic accident claim or in a clinical negligence claim, the NHS Litigation Authority.
Damages can be paid as a lump sum and/or a series of regular payments (known as periodical payments). Many damages awards are a combination of the two. A lump sum award can provide you with funds that are often required within the first year of settlement to adapt a home or obtain costly specialist equipment. Periodical payments are made annually for the rest of the injured person’s life and provide a reliable and regular income to fund on-going care, care management and sometimes therapy costs.
This will depend on the extent of your injury and on-going needs. Your compensation will include an award for both general and special damages. General damages aim to compensate for pain, suffering and loss of amenity. They are set by Judicial Guidelines. By way of example, an individual who is rendered tetraplegic can expect to recover between £271,430 to £337,700 in general damages.
Special damages are often more significant because they encompass both past and future losses. These include the costs of past and future treatment and care, the costs of purchasing specialist equipment and adapting or moving accommodation, as well as compensation for loss of earnings.
Depending on the impact of the injury, the amount of damages awarded can range from a several thousand pounds to several million pounds. We will work with a range of experts to understand your individual needs and ensure that you have sufficient compensation to meet those needs.
Partner and Head of Department
Kingsley Napley guided us through a very difficult and complicated matter in a way that made it easier for us to both understand and cope with.
Chambers UK, A Client's Guide to the Legal Profession
Kingsley Napley LLP’s ‘top-flight’ clinical negligence team remains a ‘front runner’, and provides an ‘amazing level of service’.
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