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Extensive damages agreed in a case involving failure to treat infection

Delay in appropriate treatment for infection in shoulder joint, inappropriate antibiotic treatment resulted in infection to the spine causing permanent damage to the spine

Photo of shoulder: istock

12 March 2012

Infection (Osteomyelitis)

Clinical negligence partner Sally Jean Nicholes acted for T who had pain in his shoulder and was referred to a shoulder specialist, Mr Andrew Wallace, at the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in London.  There was a delay in diagnosis and appropriate treatment which allowed the infection to become worse, resulting in septicaemia.  T was admitted to hospital in a critical condition and was treated but the antibiotic medication prescribed on discharge from hospital was inadequate; not strong enough and prescribed for too short a period to be effective in eradicating the infection.  As a result, the infection became active in T’s spine and about two months later T became seriously ill.

T was readmitted to hospital under Mr Wallace’s care and was eventually transferred to the care of a spinal surgeon.  T was required to wear a body brace to support the spine and to undergo intensive anti-biotic treatment as an in-patient for a month.  On discharge from hospital, T was unable to manage even basic activities of daily living without help.  Gradually T managed to learn to mobilise in the brace and started physical therapy.  T needed the back brace for seven months. Thereafter, T was advised to maintain a strict regime of physical therapy which included physiotherapy, yoga and pilates to strengthen and maintain flexibility of the spine.  T was unable to work at all for six months after discharge from hospital and could not resume full time work for a further three months thereafter.

The Defendant, represented by the Medical Defence Union, denied liability for causing damage to T’s spine.  Court proceedings were commenced.  Following exchange of independent medical expert evidence and a meeting of experts, liability was admitted.

As a result of the negligent treatment, T suffered permanent damage to the spine, the loss of the space between L1 / L2 vertebrae. 

T suffers pain on a daily basis and takes analgesics at night to be able to sleep.  Prior to this incident, T had enjoyed sporting activities which included running, long distance cycling and walking.  Because of the permanent damage to the spine, T is unable to pursue these activities.  Settlement was reached in a six-figure sum.

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