Case studies

Facial burn caused by drill over-heating leads to permanent scarring

Our client was born with a unilateral cleft of the lip and palate and had undergone surgery on a number of occasions. In 2011 she was advised that she needed just two more surgical procedures before things were finally corrected.

During the first of these procedures, the drill that the surgeon was using suddenly became overheated causing a full thickness burn on the right side of our client’s upper lip. The procedure was completed and the burned area dressed.

Although the burn was noticed and treated in theatre, it is understood that no instructions were passed to the nursing staff to apply hydrocortisone cream at regular intervals. Therefore, when our client was back on the ward, the nursing staff did not apply anything to the burn and she was discharged without a prescription for any topical treatment. It was only at a follow up appointment one week later that the clinicians realised that the burn had been left untreated.

Our client’s face remained considerably swollen for a number of months. The burn was treated conservatively by the surgeon and his team. It subsequently became hypertrophic and was noticeable.

We submitted a claim alleging that this was something that should simply not happen. The hospital admitted that the drill had over-heated due to an error. There were not enough drills for every surgeon so they were over-used and not maintained properly.

We obtained evidence from a plastic surgeon on the nature of the scarring and the treatment available to improve this, as well as from a psychiatrist on the emotional impact this had caused. We were able to resolve things relatively quickly with the NHSLA accepting a well-placed offer of £35,000 plus our legal costs.

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