Birchall Blackburn Law – Compartment syndrome specialist solicitors

Can you claim compensation for acute compartment syndrome?

Acute compartment syndrome is a serious medical condition that requires immediate diagnosis and medical care. It needs to be treated in the early stages of its development or extensive tissue death can occur. The dead tissue may have to be removed causing deformity, restricted movement or paralysis, and in some cases amputation of the arm or leg is required.

A person who has suffered a serious injury as a result of an error or omission by a medical professional may be able to take legal action to claim compensation.

Clinical (or medical) negligence is a serious breach of the duty of care that medical professionals ethically and legally owe their patients. The breach of care must have caused or materially contributed to the person’s injury.

In cases of acute compartment syndrome, if a medical professional fails to offer a reasonable standard of care there may be grounds for compensation. This could be in cases where there is:

  • A failure to diagnose and treat compartment syndrome within a reasonable timeframe
  • A failure to prevent compartment syndrome when there is a risk of its development
  • A patient develops compartment syndrome in hospital and medical professionals fail to recognise the condition

For example, if a surgical cast is put on to a broken limb too tightly or before the injured area has stopped swelling, and subsequently medical staff fail to identify the development of acute compartment syndrome, and the failure results in serious injury to the limb then there may be a case for compensation.


How much compensation can you expect for an acute compartment syndrome claim?

The amount of compensation a person receives can vary greatly. It will depend on many factors, such as the severity of the physical injuries, psychological and emotional trauma and anxiety, medical expenses incurred, pain and practical impact on the person’s social and financial life, and future care needs.

Depending on the individual’s circumstances some patients will claim compensation for thousands of pounds, while a more severely affected patient – for example, amputation as a result of delayed treatment – will require compensation that can amount to millions of pounds.

What is compartment syndrome?

Compartment syndrome is a painful condition that can be extremely serious and requires timely hospital treatment to avoid life-changing injury.

It is caused by bleeding or swelling within a localised group of muscles, which is referred to as a muscle compartment.

The condition occurs when the compartment of muscles, blood vessels and nerves are put under restrictive pressure that prevents blood from flowing freely to the muscle compartment. This can potentially damage the muscles and nerves.

The condition can occur anywhere in the body where there are muscle compartments but it is usually associated with arms, hands, legs and feet.

There are two types of compartment syndrome, chronic and acute.

What is chronic compartment syndrome?

While this can be painful it is not a serious condition and will not cause permanent damage to muscles or nerves. Chronic compartment syndrome usually occurs during or immediately after repetitive exercise – especially running or cycling. The symptoms of chronic compartment syndrome will come on gradually but will stop within in a few moments of finishing exercising.

Symptoms can include cramping, a tingling or pins and needles sensation, swelling or bulging of the muscle, the area can turn pale and feels cold, and the muscle can be difficult to move.

What is acute compartment syndrome?

Acute compartment syndrome can lead to permanent muscle damage if it is not treated quickly. Usually it happens suddenly after a fracture or severe injury and it is a medical emergency.

Symptoms develop rapidly and get worse quickly.

Symptoms include:

  • Severe pain, especially when the muscle is stretched
  • Localised tenderness
  • Muscle is tight
  • A tingling or burning in the affected area
  • Numbness or weakness in the muscle

If a person develops acute compartment syndrome they should be treated within in couple of hours or risk permanent damage.  They should go to the accident and emergency (A&E) department as soon as possible.

What is the treatment for acute compartment syndrome?

This serious condition has to be treated with an operation called an emergency fasciotomy.  To relieve the pressure inside the muscle compartment the surgeon has to cut open the skin and facia, which surrounds the affected muscles, blood vessels and nerves.

Once the pressure is relieved the incision is then closed within a few days.

What causes acute compartment syndrome?

In rare cases, acute compartment syndrome can occur without any obvious injury but the condition is usually caused by:

  • A broken bone or a crush injury
  • Burns that cause the skin to tighten
  • Swelling following surgery to repair a damaged or blocked blood vessel
  • A bandage or plaster cast applied too tightly or before swelling has stopped following initial injury