Most people probably only get to hear of the accessory nerve in rare cases when it is damaged. It runs through the back of the neck, the area below the shoulder and the trapezius muscle. It is an important muscle keeps the shoulder in place and enables us to raise our arms. So when it is damaged people find their shoulder drooping, cannot raise their arm and develop a distinctive deformity described as a ‘winged scapula’.
I have acted for several people who have suffered damage to the accessory nerve from operations to remove lumps in their neck or to biopsy lymph nodes. The irony is that a couple of them have suffered serious injuries which have left them severely disabled and in pain from minor procedures that were probably unnecessary anyway.
Damage to the accessory nerve is a well-known risk of surgery in what is called the posterior triangle. The anatomy should be familiar to surgeons and they should take great care to work out where the accessory nerve is and then avoid damaging it. Not all cases of damage to the accessory nerve will necessarily be the result of negligence but some are. Handling these cases is therefore a challenge but it is very rewarding to be able to help people who have suffered these disabling injuries. Awards of damages cannot turn the clock back for people but they can enable them to pay for good medical care and assistance with tasks which have been impossible for them.
Paul Sankey is a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence. If you or a member of your family have a clinical negligence enquiry please call our expert clinical negligence solicitors on 0800 916 9049, fill in our short online claim form and one of our specialist clinical negligence team will be in touch.