What is Medical Negligence?
Medical negligence covers a wide range of different circumstances, but the one thing they all have in common is that a doctor, dentist or other medical professional didn’t do their job properly, and this caused the patient to suffer some sort of harm.
Medical negligence cases are often complex as in order to get compensation, lawyers have to prove two things:
- Fault: it must be proven that the actions of the medical professional were not up to the standards expected from a competent professional. This could mean that they did something wrong, or failed to act when they should have done.
- Causation: you also must prove that the actions of the medical professional caused some type of harm – an avoidable injury, prolonging of illness or other complications. This can be difficult, given that most people claiming medical negligence were ill already, and you must prove it was the treatment by the professionals and not the illness itself which caused the harm.
Severity of Medical Negligence
Medical negligence can be extremely serious, and given the life-changing nature of many of the injuries suffered by victims of medical negligence, compensation can run into millions of pounds for people who will need ongoing nursing care and support for the rest of their lives.
There are also cases of negligence which are less serious, but which still have a serious impact on victims. Medical negligence could result in an illness being prolonged, additional injuries being caused, the need for a longer stay in hospital or a more difficult recovery or additional stress and trauma.
These matters should never be taken lightly, and as these cases are complex, legal advice should be sought as soon as possible to determine whether you have a case, and how best to proceed.
Read the next section to find out why it’s important to act promptly if you feel you have a case.
How Long Do I Have to Claim?
As with any type of compensation claim, there are limits on how long you can wait to make a claim. In medical negligence cases you have three years from the date of the negligent action or injury, or if you were not aware of the negligence straight away, three years from the date on which you discovered your injury or illness was as a consequence of negligence.
Different rules apply when dealing with people who were under 18 at the time of the negligence; in their case, the three years starts from their 18th birthday. If you think you might have a case for medical negligence how much could you expect to claim in compensation? Read on to find out.
If you think you might have a case for medical negligence, how much could you expect to claim? Read on to find out.
Typical Amounts for Medical Negligence Compensation
Every case is different and the exact amount of compensation will be worked out depending on the circumstances of the negligence, and the ongoing consequences for you. Here are some estimates of the amounts payable in differing circumstances:
- Head injury resulting in memory loss or concentration problems: £10,000 to £30,000
- Minor head injury with no long lasting consequences: £1,500 to £9,500
- Eye injury causing loss or blindness in one eye: £35,000 to £45,000
- Chronic pain: £7,500 to £60,000
- Loss of one arm: £62,000 to £85,000
- Loss of index finger: £12,500
An experienced clinical negligence solicitor will be able to assess the facts in your case and give a broad outline of the sums you might expect to receive. The first step is finding out whether you have a case, and the next section explains how this process happens.
Might I Have a Case for Clinical Negligence?
It can be difficult to make sense of what has happened to you in hospital or during an illness, and often the case for medical negligence might not be as obvious as with other types of compensation cases. There are several steps that a lawyer will take you through to assess whether you have a case.
The lawyer will first conduct an informal, fact-gathering meeting with you. This can take place at home, in hospital or in the lawyer’s office. The lawyer will ask you to explain what has happened, the ongoing consequences for you and will ask lots of questions to establish the facts of the case.
The lawyer will then ask you to grant access to your medical records so they can look in greater depth to see what was and was not done.
You may be asked to see independent medical experts to assess your injury and to try to predict recovery timescales.
Putting the case forward
Once the lawyers feel they have a strong enough case for medical negligence, the case will be put forward to the NHS Trust lawyers or another relevant body for a response. Often, cases will be settled out of court to avoid the stress and expense of a court case.
Proof for a claim is always the key to a successful outcome, and in the next section, we’ll look at the sort of evidence you will need.
Proving a Claim for Medical Negligence
As discussed above, in order for a successful clinical negligence claim you have to prove two things:
- That the medical professional’s actions did not come up to a “reasonable” standard
- That you were injured or suffered harm as a consequence of their actions
The exact nature of the proof and evidence which is put forward for a claim will vary from case to case but generally includes:
- Your medical records and any notes made by staff at the time
- Reports by independent medical experts
- Statements from witnesses
- Details of any costs which you incurred as a result of your harm or injury
Often, patients who are ill in hospital or have suffered an injury as a consequence of medical negligence are in no fit state to make notes and keep details of who treated them and when. Relatives can help with this, and hospital or medical notes should have details of all treatment.
Additional costs such as physiotherapy, taxi fares, loss of earnings or other costs can be included in your claim so always ask for itemised receipts and pass all bills directly to your lawyer.
Most Common Types of Claims for Medical Negligence
Medical negligence lawyers handle a wide range of different claims, but some types of claims arise more often than others. The most common reasons for claiming medical negligence compensation are:
Delayed Treatment – this doesn’t refer to long waiting lists for treatment in the NHS, it refers to negligence by a GP in not referring you to a hospital specialist, or having to make repeated visits to hospital before the illness is detected. If these delays lead to an illness being diagnosed as terminal, if it causes more pain or if a more serious condition develops, then you might have a medical negligence claim.
Misdiagnosis – similarly to delayed treatment, misdiagnosis means a GP has failed to detect a serious condition or has diagnosed it something else. In order to prove negligence, you’d have to show that a reasonably competent doctor would have made the correct diagnosis. A delay in diagnosis can mean illnesses are extended or can get much worse.
Medication Errors – giving a patient the wrong medication, or the wrong dose of the correct medication can be fatal in the most serious cases. Wrong medication is a “never event” which should never happen, but these errors can happen when staff are overstretched.
Obstetric and Gynaecological claims – around one third of all claims paid by the NHS surround childbirth and the neo-natal period. Sums involved in these claims can be high as mistakes made during childbirth can affect the child for the rest of its life.
General Surgery – there are lots of claims made after a wide range of surgical procedures, for damages such as infection, nerve or tissue damage or even foreign bodies being left in a patient.
How Long Do Clinical Negligence Cases Take?
We’ve already explained that medical negligence cases have to be started within three years of the event, or within three years of discovering the injury was as a consequence of negligence. Making the initial appointment and getting the ball rolling is just the start of the process, though, and the road to getting your compensation can take many months or weeks.
Most cases will be settled within a few months of the claimant instructing their solicitor. Some of the very complex cases where high sums of money are involved can take years to settle. The usual timeline for making a medical negligence claim is as follows:
- Initial investigation by the legal team involving getting medical records, independent reports and gathering other evidence: 3 – 6 months
- Formal notification to the other body involved in the claim, giving them notice to acknowledge the claim: 2 weeks
- Length of time the other side is allowed to gather evidence and produce a detailed response to the claim: 4 months.
If both parties agree to settle out of court, the lawyers will then negotiate the level of compensation to be paid. If a case is to go to court, this can take a further 12 to 18 months.
Read on to find out about some recent medical negligence claims, and the levels of compensation awarded.
Examples of Recent Claims
Medical negligence claims are in court all the time, and often feature on news websites and in the pages of local newspapers. Often, cases which are settled out of court have a confidentiality agreement written in which ban anyone involved from discussing the case.
Here are details of some recent claims which came to court, and the sums of money involved:
Brain damage case – A Gloucestershire woman suffered lasting brain damage after an NHS trust failed to spot encephalitis when she was admitted to hospital. The Trust was ordered to pay a lump sum of £1.1 million, plus £240,000 every year for the rest of the woman’s life to meet the costs of nursing care.
Oxygen starvation – A 47-year-old was awarded £2.5 million in compensation after a lengthy legal battle to prove that his disabilities had been caused by being starved of oxygen at birth.
Jaw injury – A woman who had her jaw permanently injured because the anaesthetist used the wrong equipment to support her breathing after an operation was awarded a six-figure sum in compensation.
Missed Diagnosis – A man was awarded £675,000 after being unable to return to work due to A&E doctors not spotting a bleed on the brain.
Who Do I Trust for my Case?
It’s important to get the right solicitor for your case, as this will maximise the chances of getting the correct level of compensation for you. Here are a few key things you should be looking for:
- Specialist – as medical negligence is such a complex area of law, you should look for a company or lawyer who specialises in medical negligence cases and not a general compensation lawyer.
- Clinical Negligence Accreditation Scheme – the Law Society runs this scheme and only admits lawyers who have the correct level of experience and expertise. Always make sure a lawyer is registered on this scheme.
- No Win, No Fee – most lawyers operating in medical negligence claims offer conditional fee or “no win, no fee” agreements to help people fund their claims. The details of these schemes and how much you will be expected to pay if you win should be explained to you from the outset.
- Track Record – any medical negligence solicitor worth their salt should be happy to provide details of successful cases they have worked on previously.
Medical negligence is serious and can change your life. It’s, therefore, vital that you get the right help from friends, family and professionals should you have the misfortune of being in a situation where you’ve fallen victim.