Compensation for burns during surgery
I recently settled a claim for a client who suffered a significant burn during an operation under general anaesthesia.
My client developed haemorrhoids during pregnancy. She was referred to a colorectal surgeon for an operation to remove both the haemorrhoids and a skin tag.
During the operation, the surgeon wiped down her skin with an alcohol based solution prior to using a diathermy handset. [Diathermy is a medical and surgical technique involving the production of heat in a part of the body by high-frequency electric currents to stimulate the circulation, relieve pain, destroy unhealthy tissue, or cause bleeding vessels to clot].
The alcohol based solution had apparently pooled underneath my client’s body on the operating table. When the surgeon used the diathermy handset it produced a spark which set fire to the pooled fluid. The surgeon eventually realised and put out the flames with his hands but not before my client had suffered some serious burns.
The following day she was transferred to another hospital to be treated by a specialist plastic surgeon. She stayed in that hospital for a week. Her burns were treated and re-dressed daily. This was extremely painful for her and she needed a lot of pain medication including oral morphine. Eventually, she was transferred again, this time to a specialist burns hospital. Even after her discharge from the burns hospital she had to return weekly to the outpatients’ clinic for a further two months.
Unsurprisingly, breach of duty was admitted by the National Health Service Litigation Authority (NHSLA) on behalf of the surgeon but my client was put to “strict proof” in relation to the harm his negligence had caused her.
I started by obtaining expert evidence from a specialist consultant burns specialist. As well as reporting on the scarring, the surgeon was concerned about her psychiatric reaction to what she had been through and to the scars she had been left with. He recommends that evidence is obtained from a consultant psychiatrist. He also recommended a referral to a specialist laser dermatologist for a consultation to see whether or not her scarring would benefit from some specialist treatment.
The consultant psychiatrist agreed with the burns specialist that my client had been affected by the incident and that she would benefit from some professional counselling. The dermatologist recommended a treatment plan using both bleaching cream and laser therapy to work on her scarring. The estimated cost of the dermatology treatment alone was around £10,000
Despite having access to my client’s medical records the NHSLA made an offer to settle her claim before the medical evidence was complete. Their offer was for £1,500. Having taken my advice, she firmly rejected the offer and we continued to gather supporting evidence to show both the injury she had suffered and the further treatment she required.
There was a modest claim for care and assistance given to my client by her family during the time she was in the hospital. Before discharging her home, the burns specialists had shown her mother how to dress and clean her wounds. As well as having her burns re-dressed by her mother. She also had to travel to and from the many outpatient appointments for treatment of the burns during which time her family members looked after her small child. The travelling was very painful for my client.
When the medical evidence was complete my client instructed me to disclose the reports and details of her financial losses to the NHSLA with an offer to settle quite some way above the £1,500 previously offered.
Despite the evidence, the NHSLA still did not seem to appreciate the significance of my client’s injuries and these had to be explained further. Nevertheless, after some discussions and negotiations, my client was pleased to accept a settlement that was more than 15 times the amount of the initial offer.
At the time when my client woke up from the anaesthesia, the surgeon gave her a full and frank explanation of what had happened during the operation. He apologised profusely and was very upset. She accepted his apology and was very grateful for the approach he had taken in explaining everything so clearly. Nevertheless, as time went on she decided to bring a claim for compensation because it became clear that she had suffered financial losses and that further treatment would be costly. She was very pleased that she I was able to bring the matter to an amicable conclusion for her. She felt bad for the surgeon as he had been very sorry for the harm he had caused her but the fact remained she had been injured as a result of failings in the treatment she received.