A former Birmingham City footballer is suing an experienced knee specialist over an alleged “surgical error” he believes led to the early end of his professional career.
Former Blues defender Roger Johnson, who was part of the City team which won the 2011 Football League Cup Final, is bringing a High Court clinical negligence claim against Andrew Williams, who he accuses of causing a “large defect” during an operation on his left knee in March 2017.
Now pursuing a career in coaching, Mr Johnson claims that following the procedure he suffered continued swelling and pain and did not fully recover.
He alleges that Mr Williams – a consultant orthopaedic surgeon who has worked with Premier League football clubs and Premiership rugby teams – was “negligent” by damaging his medial retinaculum, a protective fibrous capsule in the knee.
Mr Williams denies causing the rupture during the synovectomy procedure, arguing that other factors could have contributed to Mr Johnson’s condition, such as infection and the player allegedly not complying with medical advice.
The surgeon and the ex-footballer both attended a trial on liability at the Royal Courts of Justice in London this week.
Satinder Hunjan QC, representing Mr Johnson, explained in written arguments that the former player suffered a knee meniscus tear on January 27 2017 during a training session at Charlton Athletic FC.
He was advised surgery on the tear would see him “fully fit within 16 weeks” and was operated on by Mr Williams four days later, the barrister said.
But by late February Mr Johnson, who made more than 600 appearances during his career, was experiencing swelling and sharp pains across his knee.
‘A surgical error was made’
He was later told his knee was infected and underwent urgent surgery on March 17, Mr Hunjan said.
A tear in the medial retinaculum was later diagnosed in an MRI scan performed on April 11 at Fortius Clinic in London where Mr Williams practices.
Mr Hunjan claimed Mr Johnson intended to have a “relatively straightforward” procedure in March but no infection was found and he was “left with a large defect in his medial retinaculum, continuing significant problems and with the substantial uncertainty of his recovery and ability to return to elite football – the fact is that he never recovered following the surgery”.
“A surgical error was made in this case which, unfortunately, has had significant consequences for the claimant [Mr Johnson],” he added.
“Despite an extensive period of rehabilitation, the claimant attempted to return to training in September 2017 but he was unable to continue playing at a high level due to the ongoing swelling and pain resulting from the damage caused during the surgery,” Mr Hunjan said.
He added that Mr Johnson “has been unable to continue his career as a professional footballer and has attempted to pursue a career in football coaching” as well as “a limited career undertaking media and related work”.
‘No evidence to support any significant defect being present’
Mary O’Rourke QC, for Mr Williams, argued in her written submissions that there was “no evidence, on the balance of probabilities, to support any significant defect being present on or immediately after the procedure on March 17”.
She added: “The defendant’s [Mr Williams] primary case is that there was no negligence on his part causing the tear as diagnosed on April 11 but that if the court’s finding is that he did cause the tear on March 17 then it had healed by the beginning of July… and would/could have had no impact on the claimant’s career given his age/stage of career and the agreement of the orthopaedic experts as to osteoarthritis of the knee ending his career.”
Giving evidence on Wednesday, Mr Williams denied causing a “large defect” during the surgery.
The surgeon rejected a suggestion from Mr Hunjan that in a conversation with Mr Johnson and his partner after the MRI scan he gave them the impression he admitted fault during the surgery.
“That’s certainly not the situation. I was taught to say sorry to patients when things don’t go well,” Mr Williams said.
He added: “I absolutely did not suggest there was any problem with the surgery previously.
“I don’t understand how they came to that conclusion to be honest with you.”
He told the court that there was a “multi-factorial situation in a retinaculum made vulnerable by a number of processes”, with Mr Johnson’s condition potentially contributed to by “chemical enzyme damage”, the presence of a haematoma and “patient compliance”.
Mr Williams said factors “conspired to cause a rupture” and strongly disagreed with Mr Hunjan’s suggestion that he had “come up with all sorts of explanations to get away from the fact that actually this happened during the surgery”.
The surgeon accused Mr Johnson of showing “recklessness” by booking a holiday to Thailand without discussion with him, which the ex-player went on before his second surgery.
Mr Hunjan claimed in written argument that Mr Williams had been “content” for the player to travel.
Ms O’Rourke noted in her written submissions that the surgeon had “concern” that the footballer “did not comply with medical advice as to rest and rehabilitation and consequently contributed to his condition”.
Mr Hunjan also rejected infection as an explanation for Mr Johnson’s condition, adding that it was not “tenable” to suggest he “was responsible for causing this large defect within his knee”.
During a career that also saw him play in the Championship, League One, League Two, the National League and the Indian Super League, Mr Johnson made appearances for Cardiff City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Bromley.
The trial before Jeremy Hyam QC continues, with a ruling expected at a later date.
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