Consent is All – Seven-Figure Settlement for Spinal Cord Injury Victim


The general public places enormous trust in the medical profession, a reliance that is rarely misplaced. Where incidences of clinical negligence occur, however, specialist lawyers can prove invaluable, as was evidenced in a claim centring around the issue of patient consent that resulted in a seven-figure settlement.

The claimant, a woman in her fifties, had undergone successful bowel surgery after being diagnosed with cancer. Prior to the operation, 10 attempts were made by consultant anaesthetists to place an epidural into the woman’s back to provide post-operative pain relief. Three attempts were made while the woman was conscious and seven were made after general anaesthesia, when the woman was unconscious.

As a result of one of the epidural attempts, damage was caused to the woman’s spinal cord, which led to post-operative symptoms including reduced power, pain, and pins and needles in her right leg. This has impacted her ability to walk for long distances, stand for long periods and climb and descend stairs. In addition, her pre-existing anxiety and depression has been made worse and her condition has prevented her from returning to her pre-accident employment.

After launching clinical negligence proceedings against the hospital trust responsible for her care, the woman claimed that there had been various breaches of duty – one of which occurred as a result of medical staff failing to gain her informed consent to the epidural siting attempts that took place after she became unconscious.

The High Court found that staff had failed to acquire informed consent from the woman for either the waking or the unconscious epidural attempts. While she had given verbal consent for the waking attempts, this was not ‘informed consent’ and so was invalid, because she was not informed of the relative risks and benefits of other options, including patient-controlled analgesia.

Although it was ruled that the failure to properly secure consent for the waking epidural attempts did not lead to any injury – as the woman accepted that she would have accepted medical staff’s advice to have the procedure if she had been given the opportunity for informed consent – the Court found that the failure to obtain the woman’s informed consent before putting her to sleep and starting seven more epidural attempts was causative of the spinal cord injury and resulting neurological symptoms. The woman was awarded £1.3 million in damages, the full value of her claim.

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