Top 10 questions about Cauda Equina claims


Anatomical drawing of a spine

The cauda equina is a part of the body that not many people would recognise, but if it’s damaged you can find yourself with serious physical symptoms.

We’ve put together a top ten list of things to know about the cauda equina, and why damaging it can leave you needing to make a claim for medical negligence.

  1. What is the cauda equina?

The cauda equina (horse’s tail in Latin) is the collection of nerves that run to the base of the spine. These nerves are very important as they are linked to control of your legs, bladder and bowels.

  1. What is cauda equina syndrome?

Cauda equina syndrome is what happens when something puts pressure on this collection of nerves. Diagnosing it is classed as a medical emergency, and if it isn’t then treated quickly you can be left with severe symptoms.

  1. What are the causes of cauda equina syndrome?

Cauda equina syndrome can be caused by any injury to the lower back. It might be damage from a car accident or a slip or fall, a degenerative spinal condition or tumour, infection or inflammation in the spine, or complications from a spinal procedure.

  1. What are the symptoms of cauda equina damage?

Many people report the early signs of cauda equina as lower back pain, or tingling/numbness in the area around their hips and thighs, but if you’ve had occasional incontinence of any kind that didn’t seem to have an explanation, this might also be a warning sign that needs to be investigated.

More severe symptoms include lower back pain, numbness in one or both legs or the “saddle area” (the part of you that would touch a saddle if you were sitting on one), bladder or bowel incontinence, sexual dysfunction and even paralysis. This is why it’s so important that medical treatment is given as soon as possible, because the longer the nerves are under pressure, the greater the chance that the damage will be permanent.

  1. Can cauda equina be caused by medical negligence?

If a medical condition that is damaging your cauda equina isn’t correctly diagnosed and treated in time, the injury will get worse. If you went to hospital or spoke to a doctor about the problem but they didn’t listen to your concerns, that delay in treatment may be the difference between a full recovery, and a lifetime of pain, incontinence and loss of sexual function. If your cauda equina was damaged as a result of an accident at work or on the road, you may be able to make a claim. If there was a negligent delay in treating cauda equina compression, you may be able to make a clinical negligence claim.

  1. Why make a cauda equina claim?

Cauda equina damage can have a devastating effect on every aspect of your life and might leave you needing expensive equipment and rehabilitation or even full-time care and a specially adapted home. Any successful claim will include the cost of these services and the care and treatment available to you will not be limited to what the NHS or Local Authority are able to offer.

  1. How much could I get?

The amount of compensation you’ll be awarded depends on the level of disability you’ve been left with, and how likely you are to make a full recovery. In cases where you’ve been left with mobility problems, incontinence or sexual dysfunction, awards can run into the millions due to the level of care and equipment required and the earnings lost. Your lawyer will work with you to establish any losses that you have incurred because of your injury and any money that is needed to provide for your long-term care, and these will be included in the amount of damages that you claim.

  1. What are the time limits for a claim?

With any medical negligence claim for an adult who has capacity, you have three years from the date of the negligence or the date you found out about the injury in which to start your claim. For example, if you went to hospital complaining of numbness in your legs but weren’t diagnosed and so didn’t find out that you had cauda equina syndrome for another year, that is when the time limit would start. If a child is injured, their three-year time limit doesn’t start until they are 18 years old.

  1. How can I pay for my claim?

In the UK, almost all claims are funded by no win, no fee agreements (also known as “Conditional Fee Agreements”). If you have home insurance with legal expenses cover or stand-alone legal expenses insurance, this can also help to fund a potential claim. Public funding by way of legal aid or legal help is only available where children suffered a neurological injury during birth. To find out more about funding a claim, see our guide.

  1. How long will it take?

Most medical negligence claims will be completed in two or three years, but if it’s a very complex injury or set of circumstances, it can be four, or even five years to completion.

A lot of cases will be finished without needing to go to court as a result of an out of court settlement. If you do need to go to court for your claim, we’ll make sure you know what to expect.

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