Spinal surgery may resolve debilitating back pain, restore mobility and save lives.
Like all surgery, it involves inherent risk. Even with the best medical team and no evidence of any mistake or negligence, there’s the possibility of a negative outcome. However, both diagnostic and surgical errors can occur – and in the case of spinal surgery, these may have devastating consequences.
If you or a close family member is seriously injured as a result of spinal surgery malpractice, you may have a medical malpractice claim.
Common mistakes in spinal surgery
Certain medical mistakes are among those most commonly made before, during and after spinal surgery.
Misdiagnosis of spinal injury or tumour
Failure to properly diagnose certain spinal injuries or conditions can have catastrophic results and may, in some circumstances, constitute medical malpractice.
An example is failure to diagnose a burst fracture of a vertebra. Unlike a compression fracture or degenerative disc disease, which don’t necessarily require immediate surgery, a burst fracture can impair or even sever the spinal cord if it’s not operated on as a matter of urgency.
Similarly, spinal tumours that aren’t detected or are misdiagnosed can metastasise or interfere with the spinal nerves, causing partial or full paralysis. The symptoms of a spinal tumour may be similar to those of other medical conditions, but the tumour can usually be identified using an MRI scan.
Failure to properly assess a patient’s viability for spinal surgery may also constitute medical malpractice or negligence.
Improperly placed pedicle screw
Orthopaedic surgeons and neurosurgeons use a number of techniques that involve inserting prosthetic discs, rods or screws into the spine. Improper placement of this type of equipment can have significant neurological consequences.
A common surgical error that can lead to catastrophic spinal injury is a misplaced pedicle screw. If not inserted correctly, the screw can cause spinal canal intrusion, which in turn can lead to spinal cord and nerve damage.
Unfortunately, improper pedicle screw placement isn’t always detected immediately, and spinal damage can continue to occur over time. Once a misplaced screw is identified as the cause of a patient’s pain and/or mobility problems, further surgery – at significant medical expense – may be required.
A victim of this type of medical mistake may be able to claim compensation for medical expenses, loss of income due to being unable to work and pain and suffering.
Improper treatment, or treating patients without due care, covers a broad range of types of medical negligence.
For example, administering an epidural injection too close to the spine or performing a lumbar puncture without adequate sterilisation of the skin can result in a spinal epidural abscess that triggers inflammation around the spine. If an abscess is left untreated, the swelling can constrict the spinal cord, leaving a patient with neurological injuries.
Poor patient monitoring
Insufficient monitoring of a patient’s vital signs, blood loss and oxygenation during and after spinal surgery may be the basis of a medical negligence claim.
A delay in identification of or an undetected cerebrospinal fluid leak after a lumbar puncture can constrict the spinal cord and lead to neurological injuries.
Spinal surgeries are usually long, complex operations. A patient who isn’t monitored closely, during surgery and post-operatively, may suffer cardiac arrest or other potentially avoidable harm.
How to pursue a medical malpractice claim
For a claim to be successful, it must be proved that the surgeon, surgical team or hospital made a medical error and/or acted in a negligent manner. This typically requires testimony from expert medical witnesses.
How DSC Attorneys can help
At DSC Attorneys, we specialise in personal injury claims and our medico-legal team has extensive experience in handling spinal surgery malpractice claims.
We can assess your claim, help prepare supporting evidence, secure testimony from medical experts and represent you in legal proceedings, giving you the best chance of receiving the compensation you deserve. We work on a no win, no fee basis.