‘Nerves are like the underground tube network in our body’ (Marco Sinisi, consultant neurosurgeon).
Nerves are essentially ‘cables’ that carry electrical impulses between the brain and the rest of the body and have many functions including the control of breathing and digestion, to move muscles and allow sensations to be felt. As a result, when they are damaged this can cause significant problems. The network is extensive – there are many billions of nerve cells (neurons) within the nervous system, which is often described as the command centre of the body.
There are two interconnected nervous systems - the central nervous system, which consists of the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system, which is the network that carries signals to and from the central nervous system to the rest of the body.
Nerves are delicate. They can be damaged by being cut, stretched or crushed. Essentially, if the ‘cables’ are cut they stop sending signals and this can result in a loss of feeling or movement. Nerve injuries can be very serious, leading to paralysis and permanent losses of sensation. They can also cause considerable pain. For example, sufferers may have a burning or tingling sensation in the damaged area or severe shooting pain akin to an electric shock.
Some nerve injuries require surgery, such as a nerve repair (for example when two cut ends of a nerve are found and stitched together). Nerve grafting can be required if the gap between the ends of a damaged nerve is too large. In this case, a nerve is taken from elsewhere in the body and used to bridge the gap. Nerve transplantations can also be undertaken as well as surgical decompression (the releasing of nerves).
Those with nerve injuries can be left with long-term chronic pain which can be extremely difficult to manage with medication. Opioids such as morphine, used in some instances to treat short term pain, are not an effective option because of the risks associated with longer term use. Chronic pain can be life altering and debilitating.
Is there a legal claim?
Because of the vast array of nerves all over the body, surgeons and other medical professionals have to take considerable care. Sometimes damage can occur even when all reasonable precautions have been followed. Nonetheless, nerve injuries do also happen as a result of substandard care and, in those instances, claims for compensation can be made.
Claims may arise when:
- An injection is not correctly administered, such as an epidural
- A nerve is cut during surgery and protocols were not followed
- A screw or pin placed during surgery damages or impinges nerve
- Inappropriate pressure is put on nerves during medical treatment
- Medication is inappropriately prescribed which is known to potentially cause nerve damage (such as certain chemotherapy drugs)
At Kingsley Napley, we specialise in nerve injury cases and work tirelessly to get the best awards of compensation for our clients. We instruct leading experts in the area including neurologists and neurosurgeons and our solicitors have obtained significant sums of compensation, including:
- £490,000 for a client whose laryngeal nerves and spinal accessory nerve were injured during unnecessary treatment for a type of thyroid cancer. This led to the development of Frey’s syndrome.
- £250,000 awarded to a Claimant who suffered a nerve injury during spinal surgery. The surgeon concerned had used out of date instruments and had demonstrated poor technique and skill when undertaking complex spinal surgery. The patient suffered a nerve injury which left him with pain and weakness in his lower right leg after the procedure. This greatly restricted his employment as a steel worker. He was put on reduced hours and restricted duties and the value of the claim reflected the extent of his loss of promotion prospects.
- £575,000 awarded to a young lady in a high pressure sales role who suffered an accessory nerve injury during a biopsy procedure. As a result of the injury the claimant suffered problems at work which were likely to hinder her chances of promotion.
- Radial nerve injury due to negligence in fixing a metal plate to treat a humerus fracture. The Claimant suffered a radial nerve injury due a misplaced screw. The injury to the claimant’s right arm led to an award of £350,000.
Nerve injury compensation
Compensation will usually include sums to cover the cost of treatment and loss of earnings as well as other financial losses, such as the purchase of care and assistance with gardening and household chores. Those whose nerve injuries cause problems with movement or involve chronic pain may not be able to work in the same job anymore and this would be reflected in any award of damages.
There is some hope. Researchers, including those from the university of Oxford, have demonstrated that tubes combining silk from spiders and silkworms are highly effective in repairing severed nerves. Dr Alex Woods, CEO of Newrotex (a UK-based firm using silk biomaterials to create medical solutions for the nervous system) explains that their silk nerve repair devices offer an effective treatment for large gap nerve injuries. He says they will improve the care that can be offered to patients as an alternative to autograft surgery and will significantly increase the number of patients who can hope to have their sensation and function restored after suffering injures.
For those suffering chronic pain, a recent study published in the journal Life Science Alliance reports that a newly created elongated botulium neurotoxin (a modified form of botox) provided long lasting pain relief in mice. Professor Steve Hunt of University College London (UCL) states that if proven safe in human trials, this could one day bring much needed relief to those living with chronic pain.
When considering the amount of compensation that a claimant needs, we will always look to try to include private and cutting-edge treatments where these are recommended by experts instructed in the case.