$1 Million Settlement From Failure to Timely Diagnose Cauda Equina Syndrome

An elderly plaintiff in New Jersey recently settled a medical malpractice case for $1 million after the plaintiff's orthopedist failed to timely order a diagnostic study that could have diagnosed a potentially catastrophic condition that ultimately led to permanent injury.  The plaintiff, age 80, underwent a lumbar fusion surgery.  Within a week, she developed the bowel and bladder incontinence and a foot drops, condition which were not anticipated or part of the usually accepted surgical risks.  When the plaintiff asked her surgeon about the complications at a post-operative follow-up appointment, he indicated that they were likely temporary in nature and due to the pressure that needed to be placed on her spinal cord during the surgery.   Another week passed and the symptoms persisted.  The orthopedist then ordered a CT scan.  That radiological study demonstrated the presence of a hematoma pressing on the spinal cord, known as cauda equina syndrome, which mandated immediate surgery.  Surgery, however, was delayed for 11 days and was ultimately unsuccessful in reversing the foot drop, which worsened, and the incontinence, which is permanent.  

Cauda equina syndrome is a well known medical emergency that calls for urgent surgical intervention.  The cauda equina is the area of the spinal cord at the bottom near the tailbone that is often described as a horse's tail becaue the nerves at the end of the spine resemble a horse's tail due to the bundled nature of the 10 pairs or nerve roots that extend downward.   The cauda equina is responsible for sensory and motor innervation to the pelvis and lower limbs as well as bowel/bladder function.  Cauda equina syndrome refers to extreme pressure and swelling of the nerves at the end of the spinal cord.   Symptoms typically associated with cauda equina syndrome can develop suddenly, or over days, weeks or months.  Severe low back pain and significant loss of bladder and bowel function are hallmark symptoms in an acute onset.  In patients for whom the onset is gradual, symptoms include intermittent loss of bowel and bladder function, recurring low back pain, muscle weakness, numbness or sciatica in one or both legs. 

At STSW, our lawyers have successfully handled a number of cases involving injuries to the spinal cord at various levels of the spine, including the cauda equina.  Because such injuries often result in devastating injuries and/or paralysis, it is essential that victims retain qualified attorneys with experience in handling these complex cases.  If you or a loved one has suffered a spinal cord injury through the suspected negligence of a doctor in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. area, call our team for a free consultation at 410-385-2225.