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Medical malpractice cases are usually complex and often challenging to prove. The victim of the malpractice must prove, through their attorney, the elements of the case: the existence of a duty of care; a breach of the duty by the medical professional; an injury caused by the breach; and damages that result from the injury.

From time to time there is a medical malpractice case where all the elements are obvious not only to doctors and lawyers, but to people without any special training—like a case in which a doctor amputates the wrong leg.

Much more often, it’s necessary to have an expert witness come in and “connect the dots” for a jury: to explain, for example, why a doctor’s action that looks reasonable on its face is actually negligent. It is even more essential when the patient’s medical condition may be unfamiliar to the jury—like cauda equina syndrome.

What is Cauda Equina Syndrome?

Cauda equina syndrome (CES) is a rare, but serious, neurological condition affecting an estimated one to three people out of every 100,000. However, actual numbers may be somewhat higher due to misdiagnosis of the condition, which involves compression of the bundle of nerves at the base of the spine.

Prompt diagnosis and treatment of CES is essential; delays can lead to bladder and bowel dysfunction, loss of sexual function, permanent nerve damage, and debilitating weakness of the lower extremities. Depending on the circumstances, a delay of as little as a few days can make the difference between a total or near-total recovery and permanent, life-changing disability.

In other words, a person who was living a normal life one day—working, socializing, and getting out and about—could find themselves unable to do any of those things a few days later, and for the rest of their life. Think about how devastating that would be, especially if a doctor exercising the proper care could have prevented it.

The only way an injured patient can get compensation for a life-altering injury like that is to file a claim for medical malpractice. And almost always, expert witnesses are needed to prove such a claim.

How Expert Witnesses are Used in Cauda Equina Syndrome Malpractice Cases

Expert witnesses can play a number of roles in a cauda equina syndrome medical malpractice case. Long before a case ever goes to trial, a medical expert can be instrumental in helping the attorney understand the applicable standard of care in a cauda equina syndrome case: whether the doctor acted as a reasonable, prudent doctor would in the same situation.

If the doctor did not act in accordance with the standard of care, the next question an expert can help resolve is whether the breach caused the injury. Sometimes, that may not be obvious. If the provider’s negligence was responsible for the injury, a medical expert can also offer a reasoned opinion on how much worse that made the patient’s condition than it would have been otherwise.

Causation is a thorny issue in medical malpractice cases, because by definition, patients were already suffering from an illness or injury. It often requires medical expertise to explain how the provider’s action (or inaction) led to a worse outcome.

What Experts are Needed in a Cauda Equina Syndrome Malpractice Case?

Neurologists and neurosurgeons are frequently called upon in CES medical malpractice cases, but there are many types of medical experts who might be called upon in a CES case. For example, a urologist may be called upon to discuss the extent of the patient’s bowel and bladder dysfunction and the likely impact on the patient’s health and well-being. A physical therapist may testify regarding the functional limitations the condition will pose on the patient’s life. A psychologist or psychiatrist may educate the jury about cauda equina syndrome and depression. All of these professionals and others may testify about what the injury means for the patient in the months, weeks, and years ahead.

While medical professionals are the most frequent expert witnesses in a CES medical malpractice case, they are not the only experts involved in these cases. Experts may also be needed to testify regarding damages. CES frequently limits a sufferer’s ability to work, so a forensic economist might evaluate the difference between what a patient could have earned without injury, and their likely earning capacity in their injured state.

Other experts might testify to likely future medical bills and other costs caused by the injury, such as the need for home modifications. Without this information, a jury could only guess at what it would be suitable to award a claimant.

Work with an Experienced Cauda Equina Syndrome Attorney

If you are pursuing a medical malpractice claim against a provider for causing your cauda equina syndrome, it is critical to work with an attorney who has handled these cases before. An experienced cauda equina syndrome malpractice attorney will understand what experts are needed in your case, and is more likely to have access to respected, effective experts.

If you have other questions about cauda equina syndrome and medical malpractice, please contact the Fraser Law Firm to schedule a consultation.