Surgical Errors and Spinal Cord Injury
The spinal cord is the pathway that conveys messages from the brain to other parts of the body. Most of the time, we don’t even think about the fact that our spinal cords are functioning exactly as they should. Someone asks us to pass the salt shaker, and we reach out, grasp it, and hand it over without thinking about how we did it.
But for someone with a spinal cord injury, such simple actions become impossible. It is as if a telephone cable has been cut, and messages from the brain no longer make it to their intended destinations. When such a life-changing injury happens as a result of a surgical error, it is even more devastating—and it is probably medical malpractice.
What Are the Effects of Spinal Cord Injury?
The effect of a spinal cord injury depends in part on what area of the spinal cord was damaged. In general, the higher the level of the injury on the spine, the more of the body that may be affected. Spinal cord injuries due to surgical malpractice may include:
- Paralysis, such as quadriplegia or paraplegia
- Muscle weakness and atrophy
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Loss of sexual function
- Loss of sensation below the level of injury
- Involuntary muscle contractions and spasms (spasticity)
- Difficulty breathing
How Do Surgical Errors Cause Spinal Cord Injury?
Patients who submit to medical treatment expect their doctors to make them better, not worse. Unfortunately, a seemingly small mistake can lead to profound and permanent damage. Spinal cord injury is one of the most serious forms of surgical malpractice, and it can happen in a variety of ways, such as:
- A surgeon inadvertently nicks the spinal cord during spinal surgery.
- A surgeon uses surgical instruments incorrectly or with excessive force.
- A surgeon operates on an incorrect surgical site due to misinterpretation of imaging, mislabeling, or other miscommunication.
- A surgeon uses equipment that has not been properly sterilized or is otherwise contaminated, leading to infection.
- A postoperative infection develops at the surgical site and is not promptly identified and treated, allowing inflammation and damage to the spinal cord.
- An anesthesiologist administering an epidural pain block inserts the needle incorrectly, leading to spinal cord damage .
- During the surgery, the surgeon cuts a blood vessel, leading to insufficient blood flow to the spinal cord.
- The surgeon uses hardware such as rods or screws during spinal surgery, and incorrect positioning damages the spinal cord.
These are only some of the many ways that people sustain spinal cord injuries due to medical malpractice. While the overall incidence of such injuries is small compared to the number of surgeries performed, that is little comfort to the small minority of patients whose lives are changed forever by a negligent spinal cord injury.
What Compensation is Available for a Spinal Cord Injury?
If you were injured by surgical malpractice or some other form of medical malpractice, your damages may include a wide variety of losses you have suffered, including:
- Loss of income due to your injury
- Increased medical bills due to your injury
- Costs of physical therapy and rehabilitation
- Costs of retrofitting your home and adaptive equipment to accommodate your physical disabilities
- Costs of in-home care if you are able to reside in your home with assistance
- Costs of a long-term care facility if your injury prevents you from living independently
- Compensation for pain and suffering, including mental and emotional distress
- Your spouse’s loss of consortium or your family’s loss of companionship because you no longer have the physical ability to participate in certain activities
Some damages are easier to determine than others. For instance, if you had a job making $100,000 per year before your injury and are now unable to work, your lost income is relatively simple to document. Things like pain and suffering are more difficult to put a price tag on. An experienced attorney can help a jury to understand what you have lost, and what it is worth in financial terms.
How Do I Know if My Injury was Caused by a Surgical Error?
Even the most straightforward surgery carries risks; that is why hospitals require patients to provide informed consent for procedures. However, just because you agreed to accept certain unavoidable risks in order to have surgery does not mean that you consented to the risk of surgical error.
That said, it can be difficult to determine whether a poor outcome from a surgery was the result of an unavoidable complication or a surgeon’s mistake. If you suffered a spinal cord injury during or after surgery, you should never assume that there is nothing that you can do about it. Even if there is no chance of a full physical recovery, you may still be entitled to compensation for your injuries that will allow you to live the best and fullest life possible.
Even if you are unsure whether your injury was caused by your doctor’s negligence, you should consult an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. An attorney who regularly practices in this area will have the knowledge and resources (including medical experts) available to investigate whether you have a viable claim for malpractice. If you wait too long to speak to an attorney, the statute of limitations could expire and your claim could be barred forever. Contact Huegli Fraser today to schedule a consultation.
The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.