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Spinal Surgery Malpractice: Common Kinds of Medical Errors

spinal surgery malpractice

Spinal surgery may resolve debilitating back pain, restore mobility and save lives. However, both diagnostic and surgical errors can occur – and spinal surgery malpractice can have devastating consequences.

If you may have a valid spinal surgery malpractice claim against a doctor, hospital or other healthcare provider in South Africa, contact us at DSC Attorneys for expert legal advice and representation.

Malpractice claims involving spinal surgery

Like all surgery, spinal surgery 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.

Malpractice occurs where a healthcare provider fails to meet accepted standards of treatment or care, resulting in harm to a patient.

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

Spinal surgery malpractice claims most commonly involve certain types of medical mistakes, 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. Under some circumstances, this constitutes medical malpractice.

An example is failure to diagnose a burst fracture of a vertebra.

A compression fracture or degenerative disc disease, for example, don’t necessarily require immediate surgery. A burst fracture, on the other hand, can impair or even sever the spinal cord if it’s not operated on.

Similarly, spinal tumours that aren’t detected or are misdiagnosed can metastasise or interfere with the spinal nerves. This can cause partial or full paralysis.

The symptoms of a spinal tumour may be similar to those of other medical conditions. However, 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. In turn, this can lead to spinal cord and nerve damage.

Unfortunately, improper pedicle screw placement isn’t always detected immediately. 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
  • general damages for pain and suffering.

Improper treatment

Improper treatment, or treating patients without due care, covers a broad range of types of medical negligence.

Two examples are:

  • administering an epidural injection too close to the spine
  • performing a lumbar puncture without adequate sterilisation of the skin.

Both of these actions can result in a spinal epidural abscess, with inflammation around the spine.

If the abscess is left untreated, the swelling can constrict the spinal cord. This may leave 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 spinal surgery malpractice claim.

A delay in identification of or an undetected cerebrospinal fluid leak after a lumbar puncture can constrict the spinal cord. This may 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 spinal surgery malpractice claim

If you or a loved one has suffered complications or injuries as a result of what you believe to be spinal surgery malpractice, you may be able to claim compensation.

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  and that this led directly to injury. 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.

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