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Settlement for woman who suffered poor mental health care resulting in permanent spinal injuries

A settlement has been agreed for a woman who received no treatment for her psychotic depression, which led her to jump from a window at home and suffer fractures to her foot and spine and damage to her spinal cord.

Posted on 08 November 2019

Poor mental health care

Sara*, who had no previous history of mental health illness, began to develop psychotic symptoms and her family sought help from her local mental health services.

A mental health nurse visited Sara at home but, after a very brief assessment, concluded that she did not require any treatment for her condition and discharged her from the care of the mental health team. Despite Sara not being fluent in English an interpreter was not arranged and so the nurse was not able to discuss how Sara felt in any detail with her directly. 

Sara’s condition rapidly deteriorated and her family sought urgent help from the mental health services on more than one occasion. She was finally seen again by the same nurse and a junior doctor, who merely referred her back to the GP to undergo blood tests to rule out a physical cause for her symptoms. Again, an interpreter was not present at this assessment.

The following day Sara was very agitated having not been able to sleep the night before. She jumped from a window of her house suffering a vertebral fracture, a spinal cord injury, and a fracture of her foot. She was admitted to hospital where she underwent surgery on her spine and foot and was then transferred to Stoke Mandeville Hospital for rehabilitation for the next three to four months. 

Living with spinal injury and bringing a legal claim

Sara had to learn to walk again and has been left with chronic back and foot pain which severely affects her mobility. She requires assistance from her family with most of her daily activities.

Sara was represented in her legal claim specialist spinal injury lawyer Nicola Wainwright, and paralegal Carla Mennillo, from the medical negligence department at Leigh Day. 

Nicola and Carla obtained independent expert evidence which was extremely critical of both assessments of Sara’s mental state. In her legal claim it was therefore alleged that the mental health team was negligent in failing to consider Sara’s history, failing to carry out a full assessment of her condition and failing to consider the significance of the language barrier. It was argued that these omissions resulted in a failure to make a diagnosis of and treat psychotic depression and assess Sara’s suicide risk.

The Defendant Trust admitted some failures in care but denied full liability for Sara’s injuries. Despite this, Nicola and Carla achieved the successful settlement of the claim and obtained compensation for Sara, saving her from the stressful and often upsetting process of a trial.

The substantial sum of compensation achieved will enable Sara to move to a more suitable house, which better meets her needs, and to pay for private treatment to try to relieve her ongoing debilitating pain. 

Nicola Wainwright said:

“Our client suffered life changing injuries which have left her in pain and deprived her of the enjoyment she got from normal day to day activities, which included looking after her grandchildren. 

“She was left suffering with psychosis and depression without treatment, this had devastating consequences for her and for her family. I believe the injuries she received could have been avoided had she received proper treatment for her illness from the mental health team.  

“I am hopeful that the compensation she has been awarded, from this successful resolution, will make a huge difference to her and her family.”

Carla Mennillo, who assisted Nicola on the case said:

"Sara’s treatment, which we alleged was negligent, put her life at risk and caused her severe injuries. She went through an awful time and according to our expert evidence this was made worse by the care that she received. I am pleased that I was able to assist in seeking justice and obtaining compensation for her that will help her to meet her current and future needs. I hope that she can now finally be able to move on and look forward to a brighter future.”

*not her real name