Do You Have A Medical Malpractice Claim For A Cut Nerve During Elbow Surgery?

If your treating doctor cuts a nerve during surgery on your elbow, and you suffer harm as a result, you may have a claim of medical malpractice or negligence against them.  In order to determine this, an experienced medical malpractice attorney will have to see if the cutting of your nerve was a breach in the acceptable standard of care, and what harm you suffered as a result.  

Common Cause For Elbow Surgery:

Two common causes that would require you to have surgery on your elbow are radial tunnel syndrome and lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow). Both have similar symptoms but the cause of those symptoms is different. In both instances, you will have pain and tenderness to the outside of the elbow (the lateral side). In both instances, the pain will get worse with repetitive use of your elbow.

Your treating doctor – likely an orthopedist – will attempt to treat this pain conservatively through injections or physical therapy. However, if the pain is severe and continues despite that conservative treatment then your doctor will likely consider surgery.  Examples of the types of surgery you may need are elbow arthroscopy with lateral release if you have tennis elbow or a simple release of the radial nerve with radial tunnel syndrome.  The pain is typically caused by pressure or compression of the radial nerve. This nerve runs down the underside of your arm and controls the movement of the triceps muscle, which is located at the back of the upper arm. The radial nerve is responsible for extending the wrist and fingers. It also controls sensation in part of the hand.  Therefore if you have severe damage to this part of the nerve it can result in a partial or complete lack of use of your hand, wrist, and fingers on the corresponding arm.

The primary purpose of this surgery is to relieve the pressure on the radial nerve to help relieve the pain you are feeling. With radial tunnel syndrome, an initial incision is made and your surgeon will check at various areas along the elbow where the nerve is entrapped or compressed.  With tennis elbow, you may need your elbow joint reconstructed or replaced.  It is up to your surgeon to protect the radial nerve at all times and ensure he or she does not cut or damage it during the surgery. If your surgeon does cut or sever the nerve, then he or she could be liable to you.


Do You Have A Case?

In order to determine that there was negligence or malpractice by your doctor in cutting your nerve, an attorney will have to request your records and review them to see if they believe it is a case an expert – usually, a board-certified orthopedist specializing in this area of treatment and surgery – will support the case.  One typical way to determine that your nerve was cut by your treating surgeon is if you display symptoms of a cut radial nerve immediately after surgery (such as numbness or a lack of use of the fingers and wrist).  This will help show that the nerve damage was caused during the surgery and did not happen at some later point in time after the surgery.  This can also be determined by an EMG study that assesses the health of nerves and muscles.  

Just because a medical expert believes your treating surgeon breached the applicable standard of care in the circumstances of your treatment does not mean you will have a case.  Your attorney will also have to be able to determine and show what harm was caused by the cutting of your nerve.  Examples of harm can be an inability to do your job, an inability to do basic things that require two hands (or a difficulty doing them) such as driving, tying your shoes, and other basic two-handed tasks we can take for granted.  Your case will also be more significant if the injured hand is your dominant hand.  Your attorney will also have to get in contact with your health insurance – whether it is private or through Medicare/Medicaid – to determine if it has a lien on any payments it made for treatment required as a result of your doctor’s negligence.  This harm can be related to your treating surgeon’s negligence by either an orthopedic expert or an expert that specializes in physical medicine.  

The Thistle Law Firm is experienced in handling claims involving cut and damaged nerves during surgery to the elbow.  If you believe you have such a claim the attorneys at The Thistle Law Firm are here to take your call at 215-568-6800.


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