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Claiming Compensation for Nerve Damage

What is nerve damage?

The human nervous system is complex and coordinates the behaviour of the human body. The nerves are often referred to as our telephone wiring system because it is the communication and transmission system of our body.

If the nerves are damaged as a result of an accident, essential communications are interrupted causing potentially significant and long-lasting pain and discomfort. If you’re suffering nerve damage following a non-accidental injury, you should be able to claim compensation.

To find out whether you could make a claim, contact an expert legal adviser for free on 0800 234 6438. Or, if you’d prefer, you can fill in our secure online form on this page to arrange a call back.

The nervous system has two parts – the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (the nerve fibres). The nervous system is crucial to how our bodies function, so if it is damaged in any way the potential is nerve pain and other physical symptoms, such as numbness and weak muscles, tingling, and loss of normal bodily functions. Nerve damage can be caused to autonomic nerves – those that control involuntary human bodily functions such as the heart rate and temperature regulation; motor nerves – those that control actual movements and physical actions; and sensory nerves – those that transmit information to the spinal cord and brain from your skin and muscles.

What are the symptoms of nerve damage?

Nerve damage can cause a wide range of symptoms and depends on the type of damage and where in the body the injury was caused. The symptoms can be mild tingling and sensitivity or extremely serious, painful conditions such as paralysis or trigeminal neuralgia. The impact of nerve damage can be significant and long lasting, potentially causing permanent disability or physical impairment. Typical symptoms of nerve damage include:

For some people, the symptoms resulting from nerve damage may be a mild inconvenience, but in others, they can have a serious impact on their quality of life. Importantly, nerve damage can also impact the victim’s mental health – perhaps more than other types of injury.

DID YOU KNOW: A 19-year-old car passenger who suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident and was left paralysed from the neck down won enough compensation to cover the cost of specialist rehabilitation and adaptations to his home for the rest of his life. The exact sum awarded has not been made public.

What causes nerve damage?

There are many different causes of nerve damage, ranging from autoimmune diseases and diabetes to trauma and medical negligence. Nerve damage can often result from a pre-existing condition or illness, or from vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Unfortunately, nerve damage may also result from injuries sustained as a result of an accident – for example, a work accident, accident in a restaurant, or other public place, or a road traffic accident. These types of injury can often result in stretch-related damage to nerves and compression nerve damage.

Compression nerve damage can be caused by accidents that involve pressure placed on the nerves that exceed their natural tolerance level of pressure. For example, repetitive actions in the workplace such as long term keyboard use and using the same piece of tool or equipment over a long period of time can cause compression nerve damage.

Stretch-related nerve damage can be caused when nerves, naturally fragile in any event, are stretched beyond their natural limits and beyond breaking point. Where this happens, the nerves can be weakened, preventing or disrupting signals being sent to the brain. Stretch-related nerve damage typically heals within 12 weeks so long as the nerve has not been lacerated.

Cuts, lacerations and even punctures to nerves can stop the transmission of signals to the brain, resulting in weakness in a limb and/or hands/feet, tingling and numbness. Lacerated nerves can be more serious than other types of nerve damage and may require surgery to resolve the problem.

There is also a risk of nerve damage if you undergo a medical or surgical procedure. Surgical procedures typically involve a surgeon navigating the nerve structure of the site to perform surgery and great skill is needed to minimise the risk of error.

Operations are often highly complex procedures and patients must be advised of the risks before they consent to surgery. However, this does not mean a surgeon can escape liability for negligence if they cause avoidable nerve damage or other injury during the course of a procedure.

Where nerve damage has directly resulted from an accident that was not your fault, or it was caused by a medical error – it is only right that you should be able to claim injury compensation.

DID YOU KNOW: Nerve impulses can travel at a speed of up to 100 meters per second.

What are the main types of nerve damage?

There are more than 100 types of nerve damage, which is no surprise given that the human body is home to hundreds of nerves. It is important to recognise that the symptoms of nerve damage can begin slowly and become increasingly painful and inconvenient. This means that it is not always obvious that a particular accident or procedure may have caused the problem in the first place, so it is vital to discuss it with a specialist solicitor for advice to see if someone else should be held responsible for your nerve damage.

These are the key types of nerve damage:

Spinal Nerve Damage

Injury and damage to the spinal cord can be extremely serious, causing potential paralysis (tetraplegia or paraplegia), lack of limb coordination and high levels of pain. Spinal nerve damage affects strength, movement, sensation and bodily functions below the site of injury.

It can be caused by a wide range of accidents, from falls and sporting accidents to gunshots and motor accidents. Spinal nerve damage can also be the result of negligence on the part of a health professional.

The nature and extent of spinal nerve damage depends on the location and extent of the spinal cord injury. For example, a ‘complete’ injury leads to loss of all sensory feeling and ability to control movement, while loss of some but not all sensory or motor function is an ‘incomplete’ injury.

Complete spinal nerve damage can mean paralysis. There are two main types of paralysis – tetraplegia (sometimes known as quadriplegia) affects the arms and hands, trunk, legs, feet and pelvic organs. Paraplegia affects the trunk, legs, feet and pelvic organs but not necessarily all of these.

Less serious cases of spinal nerve damage can result in muscle weakness, problems with coordination, numbness and tingling in limbs and extremities. Even these physical symptoms can be difficult to live with, particularly if they are long-lasting.

DID YOU KNOW: A grandfather won £2m in compensation after hospital delays led to him being permanently paralysed. Emergency surgery on an abscess on his spine was delayed for more than 24 hours.

Nerve Damage in Legs and Back

Nerve damage in the back or legs can be excruciating, particularly where damage has been caused to the sciatic nerve. This is the body’s largest nerve and branches out from the lower back to the buttocks, hips and down the legs.

If damage has been caused to the sciatic nerve or the nerve roots of the lumbar or sacral spine, pain can radiate along the nerves and down the legs. This is known as sciatica (or the medical term, ‘radiculopathy’).

Sciatica can be sharp and excruciating or it can amount to a mild sensation causing minimal discomfort and inconvenience. Sitting, bending, coughing, sneezing and other movements, and body functions can trigger sciatic pain.

Sciatic pain usually affects one side of the body but can also cause weaknesses in the legs, calf muscles, the bladder and the bowel. Though sciatic pain sometimes eases without intervention, sometimes surgery becomes necessary – causing further distress and discomfort to the individual.

Sciatica and other types of nerve pain in the legs and back can be an occupational hazard. Where, for instance, your work requires you to carry heavy loads over a long period of time or the job involves significant amounts of twisting, you could be at greater risk of injury.

The nerves in the leg can be the result of compression or even be damaged by chemical irritants. The result may be numbness, tingling and pain in the lower legs, feet and toes which may or may not be temporary.

Nerve Damage in Hands and Arms

The nerve connecting to the hands is known as the radial nerve and if this is injured, you can experience pain and tingling to the fingers and thumb. You might also experience problems straightening your arm, wrists or fingers.

This type of nerve damage is known as peripheral neuropathy as it affects the extremities – such as the hands, feet and toes.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a localised type of peripheral neuropathy, often caused by pressure exerted on the median nerve which is found in the wrist. The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can be very painful and inconvenient, including the inability to write or to hold things for more than a few seconds without numbness and tingling; and pain and tingling at night.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is, in fact, classed as an occupational disease for the purposes of RIDDOR reporting (the formal scheme for reporting injuries, diseases and dangerous occurrences at work).

Sufferers often have to wear wrist braces to keep their wrist and hand straight, thus reducing the pressure on the median nerve. Sometimes, surgery is the only cure for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Optic nerve damage

Damage to the optic nerve in the eye can be caused by injury or trauma, whether that is an accident or negligence during a medical procedure. The optic nerve connects the eye to the brain, so if it is damaged the effects can be serious, such as full or partial loss of vision; or painful and red eyes, double vision and sensitivity to light.

Optic nerve damage can also be caused in the workplace, particularly where dust particles are created and get into the eyes.

DID YOU KNOW: In the UK, it’s estimated nearly 1 in 10 people aged 55 or over are affected by peripheral neuropathy.

Nerve damage in the workplace

Many workers are at risk of nerve damage in the workplace, particularly those whose role requires them to undertake repetitive, manual work involving equipment and machines. Hand-arm vibration is a particular risk for workers using electric tools such as pneumatic or power drills, concrete breakers, chainsaws and movers.

Hand-arm vibration syndrome is another reportable disease under RIDDOR. This syndrome is also known as vibration white finger, and sometimes otherwise described as ‘dead finger’, ‘dead hand’ and ‘white finger’.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, workers are particularly at risk if they regularly operate hammer action tools for at least 15 minutes a day or rotary or other action tools for more than an hour a day.

Unfortunately for sufferers, hand-arm vibration damage is permanent. The symptoms can include damage to the nerves, joints and blood vessels and can result in long-term inconvenience to your life, including the ability to do your job.

Employers are under clear and specific duties to take reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of their workforce and minimise the risk of injury. This includes determining what levels of vibration you are being exposed to and undertaking regular assessments of the health risks from vibration at work. If your employer has failed to comply with their duties, you can claim injury compensation.

If you think you are already starting to show symptoms of hand-arm vibration, you should take immediate legal advice to find out what steps you should take.

DID YOU KNOW: A panel beater who operated hand-held power tools while working for a major car dealership since 1988 developed hand-arm vibration syndrome, but was forced to continue using the tools. The worker’s average daily usage was around double the HSE’s recommended exposure – sometimes considerably higher. The company was fined £10,000 by magistrates and ordered to pay £28,000 in costs.

How much could you claim for nerve damage?

It is difficult to estimate how much compensation you may be entitled to for the injury or condition itself (‘general damages’) because of the diverse nature of nerve damage injuries. Serious cases such as paralysis will, for important reasons, deserve a much larger amount of compensation compared to mild, curable cases of nerve damage affecting only the toes. The amount of compensation you recover will depend on various factors, including the nature and extent of the injuries; and the wider impact of the injuries on your life and ability to work.

This means your solicitor will look at the cause and extent of your condition, whether you will require any further treatment and the implications for your life. Your specialist solicitor will work hard to secure the maximum amount you deserve for your condition.

For an initial rough estimate of how much you could be entitled to, you can use our compensation calculator. Bear in mind that nerve damage may be just one part of the injuries you have sustained, for example, if you have been involved in a road traffic accident or a serious incident in the workplace. Your specialist solicitor will explain how a fair compensation figure would be arrived at in these cases.

Your solicitor will also claim ‘special damages’ to ensure you’re not left out of pocket. Special damages is the compensation you can claim for your financial losses, such as loss of earnings and overtime, prescription costs and medical expenses, for instance, the cost of surgery and physiotherapy.

You can also claim for rehabilitation costs including the cost involved in having adaptations on your home or needing to replace your car with an accessible vehicle.

Nerve damage claims as an employee

If you have sustained nerve damage, spinal cord injuries or other types of nerve damage in the workplace, it is highly probable you can claim injury compensation. The chances are high that your employer has breached its duty of care towards you, resulting in the injury, in which case it must be held accountable.

In practice, your injury claim will be against your employer’s insurance company under its liability insurance policy – something every employer is legally required to have. This means your employer will simply pass on the claim to the insurer to deal with.

Assuming you win your claim, the insurance company will then make your compensation payout – it will not come out of the employer’s pocket.

You may not even have been employed at the time – you may be a contractor, self-employed or working under a zero-hours contract. In these cases, you can still make an injury claim in the same way as if you were employed directly.

Nerve damage claims as an NHS or private patient

Nerve damage caused by an error while undergoing medical treatment (or due to delays in receiving medical treatment) can be particularly distressing. We entrust our health with the medical professionals and no one expects to go to a clinic or hospital and leave with additional damage and injury.

Medical accidents that lead to nerve damage can include direct damage caused during surgery, delay in relieving pressure on a nerve, and even the prescription of the wrong type of medication.

With the help of specialist medical claims solicitors, you can be sure of a robust response to your injury or condition – they will work hard to ensure the NHS trust involved (or other medical provider) can be held accountable for the harm you have suffered.

So long as your lawyers can prove on balance that the doctor or other health professional breached its duty of care towards you and the nerve damage sustained was a direct result of that breach, you can expect compensation.

Nerve damage claims as a member of the public

If you were a member of the public and have suffered nerve damage as a result of an accident while out in public or in a supermarket or restaurant, your injury claim will be against the business or public authority responsible for the premises. This would usually be the company carrying on business at the time.

Unlike an employee’s claim, your claim would fall under occupiers’ liability. Businesses have a legal duty of care to their customers and visitors under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957, so if you’ve been injured while on their premises they will be held responsible under this law.

In practice, the claim will be against their insurance company under their public liability insurance policy, so you need not worry that a cash-strapped business or local council would be financially crippled by your claim.

What should I do if I’ve suffered nerve damage?

If you or a family member have suffered nerve damage and other injuries to the nervous system or spinal cord as a result of someone else’s negligence or carelessness, you should be able to make a compensation claim. Contact an expert legal adviser as soon as possible, and they may be able to help you make a no win no fee injury claim.

Your solicitor will need as much information as possible and will explain what documentation and evidence they need to build the strongest possible case for you.

How long do I have to claim for nerve damage?

The general rule is that you have three years from the date of the incident to start legal proceedings for compensation. However, it is often the case with work-related nerve damage that if your condition is the result of damage caused over a period of time, the three years runs from the date you first became aware that your working conditions were the cause.

Nerve damage symptoms can take a long time to develop. This means that if you are in any doubt as to whether you can still claim, it is always important to consult with specialist lawyers to see if it is not too late.

To find out whether you could make a claim, you can speak to a legal adviser on 0800 234 6438, or arrange a call back using the form on this page.

About the Author

Nicola Laver LLB

Nicola is a dual qualified journalist and non-practising solicitor. She is a legal journalist, editor and author with more than 20 years' experience writing about the law.

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