Can I Claim If A Hospital Missed My Fracture?


The Law Of… Misdiagnosing Bone Fractures

If we break a bone in our body, we expect it to be diagnosed and treated when we visit Accident & Emergency. Missed fractures are not uncommon though, leading to unnecessarily prolonged pain and sometimes further complications.

missed bone fracture

Daxa Patel, a Medical Negligence Partner at Simpson Millar, answers frequently asked questions regarding misdiagnosed fractures at A&E.

What Is A Missed Fracture?

A missed fracture is a break to a bone which goes undiagnosed and, as a result, untreated. The severity of the fracture may vary but, regardless of seriousness, it should be identified and the appropriate treatment or method of management prescribed.

What Are The Most Common Missed Fractures?

Research published by the British Medical Journal in the early 2000s listed the following locations as where fractures were most commonly missed on X-ray (radiograph):

  • Hand – 23%
  • Wrist – 17%
  • Ankle – 17%
  • Foot – 10%
  • Elbow – 8%
  • Hip – 5%
  • Knee – 4%
  • Shoulder – 4%
  • Other – 12%

The most common missed fracture in the hand was of the volar plate ligament, caused by a finger being bent back the wrong way.

Are Missed Fractures Common?

The same study showed that 80% of diagnostic errors in the participating Accident & Emergency department were due to missed fractures. The primary reasons for the oversight were:

  • Missed on the X-ray (78%)
  • Failure to X-ray (13%)

What Are The Symptoms Of A Missed Fracture?

Depending whereabouts on the body the missed fracture is sited, symptoms may include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Obvious deformity
  • Nausea, dizziness or light-headedness
  • Numbness.

If you have any of these symptoms and suspect you have fractured a bone in your body, you should return to A&E for a second opinion.

What Complications Can Arise From A Missed Fracture?

If a bone fracture goes undiagnosed and untreated, it can lead to a number of complications, some of which are potentially life-threatening.

Complications as a result of a missed fracture include:

  • Acute compartment syndrome – Bleeding or swelling within an enclosed group of muscles that requires urgent medical treatment and can result in permanent muscle damage or amputation if infection is allowed to develop.
  • Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) – A blood clot that forms in a deep vein of the body, which can occur if the vein is damaged by a broken bone. If the blood clot breaks free and travels to the lung it becomes life-threatening.
  • Fat embolism – The release of a bone's fat particles into the bloodstream following a fracture, which can cause a life-threatening blockage, cutting off the oxygen supply to a vital organ.
  • Avascular necrosis – Insufficient blood supply to the bone caused by blood vessels being damaged by fracture. If left untreated it can result in the death of the bone and the destruction of adjoining joints.
  • Osteomyelitis – Infection of the bone due to the influx of bacteria at fracture site. If left untreated it can lead to gangrene and, in extreme circumstances, require amputation.

Permanent disability, arthritis and long-term joint stiffness are also possible consequences due to misalignment during the healing process.

How Should A Bone Fracture Be Treated?

Severity and location are the key factors in treating a broken bone. An X-ray will highlight the extent of the damage and a competent medical professional will advise on the appropriate action.

Treatments for fractures can range from basic remedies such as splints, painkillers and plaster casts, through to more complicated procedures such as bone fracture surgery.

What If My Fracture Was Misdiagnosed And Left Untreated By Accident And Emergency?

If you sustained a bone fracture that was missed and left untreated by A&E, causing you unnecessary pain or further complications, you may be entitled to compensation.

If a member of your family died as a result of complications due to a missed fracture, you may be able to make a claim on their behalf.

Why Should I Make A Claim For A Missed Fracture?

Making a successful medical negligence claim because of a missed fracture will:

  • Provide you with the financial means to enable the support and ongoing care you may need due to disability or further complications
  • Increase awareness of the errors that led to the misdiagnosis, ensuring they are not repeated and allowed to affect other patients.

How Do I Make A Claim For A Missed Fracture?

To find out whether you have grounds for a claim, you should seek professional and independent legal advice. Simpson Millar has a dedicated Medical Negligence Department whose expertise lies in handling cases of this nature.

How Long Do I Have To Make A Medical Negligence Claim?

You have 3 years from the date of when your fracture was misdiagnosed, or from when the resulting complications were discovered, to make your claim.

If you are claiming on behalf of your child, you have until they reach the age of 18 to begin proceedings. After that your child has until their 21st birthday to pursue a claim themselves.

If your child is classed as a Protected Party – defined by the Limitation Act as unable to make certain decisions due to mental incapacity – there is no time limit to bringing legal action in their name.

What Should I Do Next?

If you believe an Accident & Emergency department misdiagnosed your fracture and caused you further complications and avoidable pain, you should speak to Simpson Millar.

Our medical negligence team has the experience and knowhow to ensure you get the level of award your injuries are due.

To discuss your missed fracture claim with a professional team, contact Simpson Millar today.

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