Accidental nerve damage

The scene

A patient attended a practice phlebotomist for a blood test for rubella antibodies. The phlebotomist was unable to palpate a vein in the forearm, so attempted to draw blood from another vein at the base of the thumb of the right wrist. The patient experienced considerable discomfort and was seen by a GP who thought it was likely that the needle had made contact with a nerve.

The patient attended the emergency department two weeks later with marked sensitivity over the radial styloid and a positive Tinel's sign. She re-attended a week later with continued numbness over the first web. The patient was advised to massage and mobilise the area, and was discharged. She was later diagnosed with permanent complex regional pain syndrome of the right wrist and thumb.

The patient instructed solicitors who alleged that the attempted venepuncture amounted to negligence...

The claim

The patient instructed solicitors who alleged that the attempted venepuncture amounted to negligence and caused major damage or transection of the superficial branch of the radial nerve. The solicitors' letter stated that the patient was in constant pain in her wrist and thumb, with an area of numbness over the thumb.

Liability was admitted on behalf of the phlebotomist and it was agreed to settle the case. However, there were continuing arguments over causation regarding the claimant's alleged persisting symptoms. Numerous experts were instructed, with conflicting opinions and evidence, and queries were raised as to the extent to which the claimant's condition may have been psychogenic.

After negotiation, the matter was finally settled for £110,000. The claimant's original bill of costs was over £235,000, but the MDU negotiated this down to £150,000.

This page was correct at publication on 14/03/2017. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.


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