Compensation Rewarded to Widow Following Death of Husband During Surgery

A widow was awarded compensation of £168,000 following the tragic death of her 69 year old husband from a haemorrhage during surgery to remove an intracranial meningioma. The haemorrhage could not be stopped as a vital item of surgical material was not available in theatre, causing the patient to develop a coagulation deficit and suffer a fatal cardiac arrest. It was alleged that if the relevant material had been available in theatre, the bleeding would have been stopped; the deceased would have survived the surgery and he would have had a normal life expectancy.

The claimant contacted Lanyon Bowdler in October 2011 in respect of a possible negligence claim and to seek representation at an inquest which was due to take place in December of 2011. We considered issues which should be investigated including the need for the neurosurgery and the appropriateness of the operation carried out; delay in the surgery being performed and the standard of care of the surgery, including the significance of the failure of staff to ensure that thick Spongostan (a haemostatic material designed to stop bleeding) was available in theatre.

Following the death, extensive internal investigations were carried out at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire where the surgery had taken place and witness statements were provided to the Coroner by medical staff who had been involved in the care of the deceased, including the Neurosurgeon and Anaesthetist. The post-mortem report confirmed that death had been due to uncontrollable haemorrhage during surgery to remove the meningioma. The internal root cause analysis investigation concluded that there had been failings in not having thick Spongostan available in theatre, and steps were taken to ensure adequate stock levels in the future. However, no conclusion was reached in that investigation as to whether the death would have been prevented if the thick Spongostan had been available.

The Coroner agreed to adjourn the inquest in order to allow further appropriate investigation to take place. After considerable delay in obtaining further relevant witness evidence and documentation, the inquest finally took place in January 2013, at which the family were represented by Lanyon Bowdler. The Coroner’s verdict was that the deceased had died as a recognised complication of the surgery, but the lack of thick Spongostan significantly contributed to his death.

In the meantime, supportive expert evidence had been obtained from a Consultant Neurosurgeon to the effect that if the thick Spongostan had been available, the deceased would probably have survived the surgery, would have had a normal life expectancy and would have had no significant ongoing neurological deficit or weakness.

In September 2012, the NHS Litigation Authority, on behalf of the defendants, admitted that the failure to ensure thick Spongostan was available in theatre was negligent and that this failure had probably caused the death of the deceased.

No admissions were made however as to what the deceased’s life expectancy or state of health would have been if he had survived the operation. An initial settlement offer of £17,500 was made.

The claimant was advised that the potential value of the claim was significantly in excess of that sum, which would only reflect a claim for the statutory bereavement award and funeral expenses, but in addition, there was likely to be a significant claim for financial dependency and loss of services.

Evidence was obtained from the deceased’s pension providers and from the family with regard to services that had been provided by the deceased, and after an extensive period of negotiation, the claim was finally settled for £168,000 in August 2013. The defendants also provided a letter of apology to the claimant.