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Cauda equina syndrome is a neurological condition in the lower spine. The nerve roots contained in the cauda equina, a bony structure at the base of the spine, can become compressed, causing pain, alteration of bowel and bladder function, and loss of or deterioration of sexual function.
Delay in diagnosing the condition will often have a disastrous effect on the outcome, but the window to make the diagnosis and to treat appropriately is a narrow one. The Clinical Negligence Team has extensive experience of running these claims, and can maximise your chances of winning them, with our medical knowledge and legal skills, and support you throughout the legal process, ensuring appropriate compensation is paid to you.
Cauda equina syndrome occurs when the nerves in the lower spine have been damaged, usually through being compressed (for example by a “slipped” or prolapsed disc, or more rarely by a spinal abscess). These nerves supply the muscles of the legs, the bladder, the bowel, and the genitals, so any or all of those structures can be damaged. If the nerves can be decompressed by emergency surgery then the nerve damage is reversible, but once the compression has been in place for a period (more than 48 hours is one estimate but the exact period is uncertain) it is likely to become irreversible. Chronic cauda equina syndrome will usually involve long-term pain, loss of sensation, incontinence, and impaired or lost sexual function.
Cauda equina syndrome usually presents with some combination of the following symptoms: lower back pain, sciatica (nerve pain going down the legs), loss of sensation in the feet or legs, “saddle anaesthesia” (loss of, or change of, sensation in the bottom), and incontinence of urine and/or faeces.
If you have gone to the doctor, or A & E, with a combination of the above symptoms, and have been discharged without treatment, it is quite likely that you have had negligent treatment. For your claim to succeed you would then need to show that, if you had been admitted to hospital instead, your condition would have been successfully treated by an operation to decompress the nerves.
Timings are crucial in cauda equina cases, as the “window of opportunity” to treat the condition is known to be quite small, so it will be very important to know when the symptoms came on, and how they progressed.
There will need to be supportive expert medical evidence, both about the negligence in failing to admit you or treat the condition, and in relation to the timing of treatment and whether it would have been effective in reversing the nerve damage.
There are two types of compensation awarded: “general damages” for your pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life, and “special damages” for your specific financial losses (past and future).
The most serious outcomes will usually result in awards of general damages in a range between £70,000 and £130,000.
Special damages are of course dependent upon the circumstances of the individual case. For example, if you are relatively young and unable to work because of the condition, your claim for loss of earnings (past and future) may run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. If your home needs adaptation, or you need different accommodation altogether, the costs of that will be recoverable. If you need care, and help with activities of daily living, then that can be claimed for the rest of your life. A claim for special damages can amount to a very high figure in some cases.
The Clinical Negligence Team will always ensure that you receive the maximum amount of compensation which can be obtained, and a sum which will reflect the seriousness of your injury