A case of cauda equina negligence

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Nigel was not warned of the risk of cauda equina syndrome before his lumbar decompression surgery.

We worked with Nigel* when he suffered damage to his cauda equina during lumbar decompression surgery and was not warned of the risk beforehand.

Nigel underwent the surgery to alleviate persistent back pain. After the operation he was found to have an injury to the nerves at the bottom of the spinal cord (the cauda equina).

He was left with double incontinence (i.e. he cannot control his bladder or bowel), pain on standing or walking, fatigue and erectile dysfunction. He relies on a catheter, which sometimes becomes infected and he suffers bowel pain.

His ‘cauda equina syndrome’ was not the surgeon’s fault: it is a known complication of his operation. However, Nigel was not warned of this risk before agreeing to the operation and should have been. The surgeon did not discuss any other forms of treatments and brushed aside his concerns. Nigel had very little time to make his decision and the surgeon wrongly advised that he needed surgery without delay. Had he been warned he would have been able to consider whether he really wanted the operation.

In the case of Chester v Afshar [2004], the courts decided that a patient should be properly warned of risks. If there was a failure to warn of something that then happened and the warning would have made the patient not have surgery then and there, he or she can recover damages.

*Name has been changed.

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