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Medical Negligence

Blindness claims: Loss of eyesight caused by medical negligence

Updated: 23rd May 2022
6 minute read
Blindness Due to Medical Negligence Claims
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About the Author

Medical Negligence Solicitor - LLB (Hons) Anglia Ruskin University

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Among our five senses, many consider sight to be the most important. Our vision guides us through life and is crucial in our ability to perform day-to-day tasks, from getting dressed and applying make-up, to watching television and reading books.

Loss of vision, from partial visual impairment to total blindness, can rob someone of their independence and self-identity, making previously routine tasks infinitely more challenging. While today there is a wide range of assistive technology and support services to help those with blindness, losing eyesight can dramatically alter someone’s lifestyle, from how they earn a living, to how they navigate their own home.

Sometimes, there is nothing that can be done to prevent this – most people will naturally lose vision as they get older, while some are born blind. But, if someone’s loss of vision could have been prevented by the actions of a healthcare professional, it can make an already difficult situation even harder to come to terms with.

Here, we discuss how medical negligence can cause someone to go blind or be left visually impaired, and how you can claim for compensation if you or a loved one has been impacted by this.

How is blindness and loss of sight defined?

The International Classification of Diseases 11 (2018) outlines that there are four degrees of distance visual impairment:

  • Mild – visual acuity worse than 6/12 to 6/18

  • Moderate – visual acuity worse than 6/18 to 6/60

  • Severe – visual acuity worse than 6/60 to 3/60

  • Blindness – visual acuity worse than 3/60

In order to register as blind or partially sighted on your local social service’s register, an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) must certify you following a check-up of the health of your eyes and your eyesight. In the UK to be considered blind or severely sight impaired, you must fall into one of the following categories:

  • Visual acuity of less than 3/60 with a full visual field

  • Visual acuity between 3/60 and 6/60 with a severe reduction of field of vision, such as tunnel vision

  • Visual acuity of 6/60 or above but with a very reduced field of vision, especially if a lot of sight is missing in the lower part of the field

Approximately 2 million people in the UK are living with sight loss, with 340,000 registered as blind or partially sighted.

What are the most common causes of blindness?

Blindness can be caused in numerous ways. The most common causes for loss of eyesight include:

  • Uncorrected refractive errors

  • Cataracts

  • Age-related macular degeneration

  • Glaucoma

  • Diabetic retinopathy

  • Corneal opacity

  • Trachoma

These conditions are more likely to appear in older people, but it is possible for these to be present in people of any age. It is also possible for the optical nerve to be starved of oxygen due to pressure from a tumour or following a detached retina.

Loss of sight in one eye or both eyes may also be the result of an injury to the area following an accident at work, strong chemicals getting in your eye or a sharp object piercing it.

It is also possible for someone, due to a genetic mutation or birth defect, to be born either blind or with impaired vision.

When can medical negligence result in blindness and loss of sight?

Sometimes, nothing can be done to prevent someone from losing their eyesight or going blind altogether. However, there are circumstances when this can be the direct result of substandard medical treatment, or a failure by a healthcare professional to diagnose and treat a problem.

Oxygen starvation due to a birth injury

While some people are born blind or partially sighted through no fault of anyone, some may come as a result of failing to monitor the condition of the baby in utero, or mistakes made during birth.

If an obstetrician, midwife or another healthcare professional fails to recognise that a baby is being deprived of oxygen in the womb, this can cause damage to the baby’s brain stem or visual cortex, leading them to be born blind or visually impaired.

Oxygen deprivation could also occur during birth, such as the umbilical cord becoming wrapped around the baby’s throat or shoulder dystocia preventing the baby's head from emerging. If this is not addressed soon enough and results in the baby losing its eyesight, this could result in a blindness claim.

Brain injuries caused by surgical error

If a surgeon mistakenly damages the brain stem or visual cortex during surgery, such as cutting the nerves or blood vessels in this area of the brain, then it could cause the patient to lose their eyesight.

Mistakes during eye surgery

Surgical errors made during eye surgery, such as inserting the incorrect lens during cataract surgery or damaging the nerves or blood vessels in the vicinity, can result in a patient temporarily or permanently losing their vision.

In addition, failure to monitor any problematic signs following a surgical procedure, such as excessive swelling and bruising, could also be grounds for a medical negligence claim.

Delay in diagnosis and treatment of conditions

For eye conditions such as glaucoma or cataracts, there is often a window of opportunity where some or all of the patient’s eyesight can be preserved. If a GP or another healthcare professional fails to spot signs of potentially threatening eye conditions, or overlooks the symptoms highlighted by their patient, this delay could prevent the possibility of correcting the damage.

For example, keratoconus is an eye disease that affects the cornea. If diagnosed early enough, the development can be arrested through a corneal collagen cross-linking. This is a one-off procedure where a vitamin B solution is applied to the eye, then activated by ultraviolet light for about 30 minutes.

If this is misdiagnosed or missed altogether by a healthcare professional, the window to apply this treatment may pass, meaning the patient has to undergo a corneal transplant. This is riskier and would need to be repeated after a number of years. Too long of a delay and it may be impossible to save someone’s vision altogether.

Delay in diagnosing and treating neurological conditions, such as a stroke or a brain tumour, can also lead to someone’s eyesight suffering irreparable damage.

Failure to recognise someone at high risk of losing their eyesight

Some eye conditions can be predicted if the patient illustrates one or more of the risk factors associated with the condition. For example, risk factors associated with retinal detachment include:

  • Short-sightedness (myopia)

  • A family history of retinal detachment

  • Previous blunt trauma to the eye

  • Previous cataract surgery

  • Inflammatory conditions (e.g. uveitis, scleritis)

If a GP, ophthalmologist, optician or another healthcare professional fails to take these into account when monitoring a patient with these warning signs, this negligence could lead to a patient’s eyesight worsening beyond the point of no return.

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What impact can blindness have on someone’s life?

The deterioration or loss of eyesight can feel frightening and overwhelming, leaving those affected concerned about how they will maintain their independence and support their health and financial wellbeing. This is especially true if the loss of vision comes suddenly due to a surgical complication or negligent care from a healthcare professional.

The biggest impact is robbing someone of their independence. We depend on our eyesight to do so much of our day-to-day activities, to work, to look after ourselves and our loved ones. If this is instantly taken away, the impact can be truly devastating:

  • Reading labels on items while shopping or at home can be far more difficult or impossible

  • Travelling independently is significantly more challenging and dangerous

  • Manoeuvring around and cleaning the home is much harder, and will probably require assistance

  • Job prospects and opportunities become much more limited

  • Socialising and hobbies become more difficult to participate in

  • Less pleasure is derived from activities like watching television or going to the cinema

  • Communicating with others is made harder, which could leave someone feeling isolated or disconnected

Fundamentally, from washing and getting dressed, to looking after the home and children, loss of eyesight means you must rely on others much more than you had previously, which can in turn impact on your self-esteem and happiness.

In addition to this, blindness or limited eyesight also affects a person’s self-identity and the way they present themselves. As they can no longer see what they wear, how their make-up looks, or how their hair is styled, it can rob someone of their ability to express themselves. This can be incredibly hard to come to terms with, and make people worried about how the world perceives them.

How can loss of sight compensation help me?

Although compensation cannot take a claimant back to when their vision was unimpaired, it plays a vital role in helping them regain as much of their independence and confidence as possible.

If you or a loved one has been left blind or partially sighted due to medical negligence, you can claim compensation for:

  • Any pain, suffering and loss of amenity endured

  • Future procedures and medical treatments

  • Care assistance

  • Domestic assistance

  • Visibility aids and equipment

  • Adaptations to the home, including handrails

  • Mobility aids and equipment

  • Transportation costs

  • Loss of earnings

  • Psychological therapies

  • Courses for learning braille

Although it can never replace the vision that you have lost, compensation is crucial to helping you move on from the suffering you have endured and live as fulfilling of a life as possible.

How much compensation can you receive for a blindness claim?

Each blindness claim is unique. Until your situation has been investigated by a law firm specialising in medical negligence, it is impossible to quantify how much your claim is worth.

Factors that can influence the value of compensation awarded following a successful claim include:

  • Age

  • The extent of the loss of vision

  • Occupation and salary

  • Whether you live alone or with others

As medical negligence experts, we work tirelessly to secure the maximum compensation you deserve based on your unique circumstances.

This will include working with an ophthalmologist or ophthalmologic surgeon, who is actively working in their field. Their professional insight helps us to establish both the most likely cause for your loss of eyesight, and how the negligence you endured has impacted on your life and capabilities. This ensures that we pursue the compensation you require based on your specific needs.

Where to start with your medical negligence blindness claim

Losing our vision can be a devastating and frightening experience under any circumstances. But, if this was directly caused by the actions or inactions of a healthcare professional, it can make an already distressing situation even harder to come to terms with.

You deserve answers from the professionals that let you down. You deserve compensation to protect your family’s future. You deserve justice for what went wrong.

At Gadsby Wicks, we have specialised in nothing but medical negligence claims since 1993. We deliver expert legal advice throughout your injury claim, devote the time and resources necessary to fully investigate what happened to you, and make sure you receive the compensation you need to secure your future.

  • 96% of our claims are settled without going to trial

  • We assign one solicitor to oversee your case from start to finish

  • Our services are available on a no win, no fee basis

  • Our in-house medical professionals assess and assist with your case

We believe everyone has the right to justice. If you or a loved one’s vision has been affected by a medical mistake, get in touch today and we can discuss your next steps.

Disclaimer

All content contained within this article is meant for general information only – this should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice from your doctor or another healthcare provider. If you require legal advice specific to your situation, please contact our team directly.

Gadsby Wicks is not liable for any diagnosis made from the content of this article, nor does it endorse any service or external site linked to within the article.

Always consult your GP if you are concerned about your health and wellbeing, or speak to us if you require legal advice.