Clinical Negligence

Publish date

22 July 2016

Man left paralysed following ‘routine’ spinal surgery wins three year battle against hospital

A man who was left paralysed and confined to a wheelchair following what he was told would be straightforward operation for a slipped disc, has won a three year battle for compensation against Brighton & Sussex Hospital Trust. The Trust is now liable to pay compensation likely to run into millions of pounds.

Mr O, a 50 year old father of one from Crowborough, East Sussex, enjoyed a successful career as a highly skilled self-employed plasterer working throughout Kent and Sussex and, often, abroad. In his spare time, he was an avid motorbike rider, and loved riding both road bikes and off-road motocross bikes, travelling up and down the country to rural parts of the UK to enjoy his hobby.

In late 2010 Mr O began to get some symptoms of numbness in his lower left leg and his left foot, which began to worsen.  His GP referred him for physiotherapy but this didn’t help.  Mr O had an MRI scan which showed he had a slipped disc pressing on his upper spine and he was referred to a neurosurgeon at the Brighton and Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust, where, in June 2011, he saw a neurosurgeon at the Hurstwood Park Neurological Centre in Haywards Heath.

The neurosurgeon explained that Mr O needed a ‘decompression’ operation to remove the slipped disc, and he was reassured that this would be a straightforward procedure.  He said he would go into Mr O’s spine through his back, rather than going in through the front of his chest, as this would be the best angle of approach. Mr O was left with the impression this was a relatively routine procedure.
Mr O was reassured by the consultation and thought he would be back at work within weeks.

A CT scan was taken in March and the neurosurgeon confirmed he would be going ahead with the operation as planned in July.

Mr O underwent the procedure on 8 July 2011.  When he came round from surgery he was asked to move his legs. He responded, he thought, by moving his legs, but when he looked up he could see they hadn’t moved.  He could not move his legs, and was paralysed.

Mr O was sent to a spinal rehabilitation unit in Salisbury but after several weeks, the improvement was minimal.  Mr O did regain about 10% of the feeling in one leg, and can force himself to a standing position with the strength of his upper body using two sticks, but has remained entirely wheelchair dependent.

Unfortunately, following his discharge home Mr O’s relationship with his long term partner ended, and Mr O was forced to move into a rented bungalow in Ticehurst.  There, he lived alone, reliant on carers and friends to wash and dress him and do all of his household chores for him.

Mr O was told nothing about why he had been left paralysed by the hospital – just  that it was an unfortunate outcome.   Mr O was not happy with that explanation, and he approached a firm of solicitors in London who started an investigation.  Their investigation drew a blank and they abandoned his case.  Mr O then approached specialist clinical negligence law firm Thomson Snell & Passmore in Kent, who began a fresh investigation into his case.

Thomson Snell & Passmore obtained expert evidence which showed that the operative approach adopted by the neurosurgeon was highly unusual and outdated.  One of the experts confirmed that, in all of his years working in spinal surgery in a top spinal unit in Leeds, he had never seen this type of surgical approach for a spinal compression like Mr O’s.  The expert evidence showed that the surgical approach adopted by the neurosurgeon had been abandoned for this type of spinal problem in the 1980’s, as it was considered unsafe, and it had no place in modern neurosurgery. It was suspected from the outset that this is what had caused the spinal injury to Mr O.

When confronted with these shocking allegations, Brighton and Sussex Hospital Trust strongly denied any liability.  Mr O was forced to issue High Court Proceedings in order to force the Trust to deal with the case properly.

The case continued for a further two years in the courts, before new CT scans were taken, just weeks before trial.  Following the results of these CT scans the Trust conceded liability, virtually in full,  and agreed that they would pay Mr O of compensation.  The claim settled in 2018 with Mr O accepting £4.1Million in compensation.

James Cahan, Mr O’s lawyer at Thomson Snell & Passmore, said:
“ One of the most concerning parts of this case was the apparent  unwillingness of the Trust, and the surgeon involved, to accept responsibility for what had happened during this operation, despite very strong evidence.  The imaging shows us that the technique used in Mr O’s case should never have been attempted.  It was an elective procedure and there was no need at all to put Mr O at this level of risk. To date, the Trust have not apologised to Mr O for what has happened to him.”
Mr O, said:

“Apart from a slipped disc, I was a fit 44 year-old man with a job and hobby I loved when this happened.  What should have been a routine operation turned into a nightmare which has ended my work, my hobby and led to the breakdown of a long-term relationship. This nightmare was made much worse by the hospital trust dragging out this issue and denying that they had done anything wrong, when in fact the surgeon who performed my operation used a technique that should never have been allowed. I’m relieved that I persevered in getting to the truth with the help of my lawyers and that the case is now settled so that I can get on with my life.”

If you have any concerns relating to any of the issues mentioned within this article, please contact James Cahan from our Clinical Negligence team on 01892 701289 or by emailing

To read the full bbc article, please visit: Apology for man paralysed following spinal surgery.

Also report by Kent and Sussex Courier & Sevenoaks Chronicle on 1st August 2016.

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