This case study demonstrates the expertise of our Clinical Negligence team who recently recovered £129,500 for a young woman who suffered a severe burn to her wrist whilst undergoing a surgical procedure intended to tighten loose ligaments.
The claimant was in her late 20s when she was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome type III (a connective tissue disorder, leading to hypermobility of joints). She was a married mother with two children, managing a full-time job in the day and a part-time position in the evenings.
Four years after the diagnosis, the claimant was experiencing difficulties with her left wrist and she was put on the waiting list for arthroscopic capsular shrinkage (a surgical procedure where loose ligaments and the capsule of the joint are tightened using a heating probe).
The procedure was performed seven months later. The records said that surgery went as expected with no cause for extra concern. However, on waking after the procedure, the claimant felt that something was amiss. She was informed that she had a pressure sore on her wrist.
It was later confirmed that the claimant had in fact suffered a significant and deep burn injury extending out to the external layers of her skin. She was seen 17 days after surgery in the out-patient clinic, where she complained of pain in her left wrist since the operation. A 5 mm diameter burn on the dorsum of her left wrist was noted. A letter to the claimant's GP following the consultation confirmed a damaged ulnar nerve and an internal burn. Physiotherapy was commenced.
Three months later, nerve conduction studies had confirmed damage to the dorsal cutaneous branch of the ulnar nerve, although some fibres were still in continuity and the consultant felt that there may still be improvement with the passage of time. By then, the claimant had a painful swelling over the ulnar border but nothing abnormal was noted on x-ray.
Surgery was performed a further ten months later and involved a total left wrist fusion.
The claimant was left with restricted movement to her wrist and hand, muscle wasting, pain and discomfort, scarring, electric shock sensations, depression and anxiety. The functional loss had a significant impairment on a number of daily activities.
Our expert reported that no reasonably competent orthopaedic surgeon performing that procedure would have failed to have been aware of the considerable damage caused by the burning. The burn would have been clearly visible and should have resulted in the surgeon abandoning the procedure before any, let alone extensive, damage occurred.
Had the procedure been abandoned, the claimant's ulnar and the dorsal branch of the ulnar nerves and tendons in her left wrist would not have been damaged. There would have been no left hand/wrist collapse and corrective surgery would have been unnecessary.
It was admitted that the performance of surgery fell below the standard that should reasonably be expected and, accordingly, no defence was raised.
The case settled for £129,500 in damages together with costs. The claimant was delighted with the settlement as it enabled her to meet the challenges that she faced with some financial security.
Jonathan Herbert specialises in cases involving surgery. If you would like to ask Jonathan a question about a potential case or you have a general query about medical negligence contact Jonathan on 01892 701226 in confidence.