Former footballer Roger Johnson has lost a high court damages claim against an experienced knee specialist over an alleged “surgical error”. Johnson, who played in the Premier League for Birmingham and Wolves, brought a clinical negligence claim against Andrew Williams, accusing the surgeon of causing a “large defect” during an operation on his left knee in March 2017.
Now pursuing a career in coaching, Johnson claimed that following the procedure he suffered continued swelling and pain and did not fully recover. He alleged that Williams – a consultant orthopaedic surgeon who has worked with Premier League clubs and Premiership rugby teams – was “negligent” by damaging his medial retinaculum, a protective fibrous capsule in the knee.
However, in a ruling published on Tuesday, Judge Jeremy Hyam QC said there was not enough evidence to conclude that the defect in Johnson’s knee was caused by the surgeon. The judge said: “In summary, the evidence adduced by the claimant and his expert has not been sufficiently cogent or compelling to allow me to conclude on the balance of probabilities that the defendant caused a 3cm diameter defect to the claimant’s medial retinaculum on 17 March 2017 in the course of the synovectomy procedure.”
Mr Williams denied causing the rupture, arguing that other factors could have contributed to Johnson’s condition, such as an infection or the player allegedly not complying with medical advice. The surgeon and the former footballer both attended a trial at the Royal Courts of Justice in London in May.
Satinder Hunjan QC, representing Johnson, explained in written arguments that the former player suffered a knee meniscus tear on 27 January 2017 during a training session at Charlton Athletic.
He was advised that surgery on the tear would see him “fully fit within 16 weeks” and was operated on by Williams four days later, the barrister said. But by late February Johnson, who made more than 600 appearances during his career, was experiencing swelling and sharp pains across his knee.
He was later told that his knee was infected and underwent urgent surgery on 17 March, Hunjan said. A tear in the medial retinaculum was later diagnosed in an MRI scan performed on 11 April at the Fortius Clinic in London where Mr Williams practises.
Hunjan claimed 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 [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,” Hunjan said.
He added that 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”.
Mary O’Rourke QC, for 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 [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.”