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Shoosmiths helped optical technician Mrs Benger secure a substantial award for negligent administration of local anaesthetic to her left thumb in a claim against the now defunct Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.
Assuming that Mrs Benger had suffered only a minor injury to her thumb, she was told by other firms that the likely minimal value of her claim could not justify the costs of pursuing it. When she approached Shoosmiths however, we agreed to investigate the matter.
Mrs Benger had accidentally split the nail of her thumb, which soon became a nuisance, snagging on her clothing and causing her pain. After months of trying to grow the nail out, she was referred by her GP to an orthopaedic surgeon at Cannock Chase Hospital. She was advised that removal of the nail was the best course and that this could be done routinely as a day case procedure.
Mrs Benger attended hospital and signed a consent form before the procedure which listed the risks involved as infection and bleeding. The surgeon proceeded to inject local anaesthetic at the base of Mrs Benger’s thumb and then almost immediately commenced the procedure. The anaesthetic had not yet taken effect however and she experienced immediate pain and discomfort.
She told the surgeon who then injected further doses of anaesthetic and the nail was removed as planned. In the days following the surgery, Mrs Benger experienced significant pain and discomfort and had little movement of her thumb.
In follow up reviews she was told that the pain and sensitivity would improve and physiotherapy would help, but her symptoms persisted. During a review almost a year after the surgery, she was told that she had in fact suffered a significant nerve injury and further surgical intervention would be required.
By that time, Mrs Benger had already been experiencing difficulties at work as she could not carry out some of her usual manual tasks. She also struggled with even the most mundane tasks at home, such as fastening her bra, chopping vegetables and putting on jewellery, because of her inability to use her thumb. She could not bear anything at all to come in contact with her thumb, making it impossible to wear gloves or properly grip the steering wheel of her car.
A total of four additional surgical procedures did nothing to improve her condition and she grew concerned as her job required significant manual dexterity in order to prepare and fit specialist lenses into tight frames. She would also need continuing support with general living tasks as it was considered that her difficulties would be permanent.
Kishma Bolaji, a solicitor in the Birmingham medical negligence team, who handled the case, explains:
‘We understood immediately the significance of this case to Mrs Benger’s livelihood and that this was not a simple, straightforward issue of minor damage to a thumb. Once we had collated the relevant medical records and notes and obtained independent medical reports it became clear that our client had in fact sustained the injury as a consequence of negligent treatment on the part of surgeon who carried out the initial procedure.’
Our investigations also revealed omissions and inconsistencies in the medical notes about the type and volume and anaesthetic injected into Mrs Benger's thumb, causing injury to the nerves in that digit.
The NHS Litigation Authority admitted liability on behalf of the Defendant Trust and judgement was entered for the Claimant. We then began the considerable task of identifying our client's losses, gathering all the necessary information to assist with the assessment of the value of the award. Additional expert evidence was sought to deal with the rather complicated issue of Mrs Benger's prognosis as her treatment was ongoing and the position unclear.
After several months of negotiation and only a few weeks before the case went to trial (for determination of an appropriate award), an agreement was reached and the claim settled for a six-figure sum.
‘We wanted to settle this case as quickly as possible so that our client could move forward with her life, but not at the risk of her being left without the support, treatment and rehabilitation she needed. We are pleased that we were able to secure an appropriate award for our client who is now able to take advantage of the various therapies and treatments available and hopefully go on to live her life to the fullest, irrespective of any limitations.'