Making a Claim
If you believe that you have been injured as a result of medical negligence, the first step is to seek advice from a solicitor qualified in this very specific area of the law. Our team of clinical negligence solicitors are well versed in such cases and will be able to assist in providing you with specialist advice. We will require a detailed statement from you, setting out the dates of your attendances at hospital/GP surgery/dental surgery and confirming the treatment which you believe to have been negligent.
We will consider the circumstances of your complaint and identify precisely the areas where negligence may have occurred. Consideration will be given as to whether it is appropriate for you to raise a complaint with the doctor or medical body responsible for your care in the first instance, or whether litigation is the most suitable step.
We will obtain copies of your medical records and prepare a chronology of events on the basis of same. At that point, we should be in a position to advise you further about your prospects of success and whether to pursue the claim.
If there still appears to be a case to answer, consideration will be given to instructing an appropriate expert to report on your behalf. The instruction of the expert is an important step, and it is crucial that the expert chosen is suitably independent and experienced in preparing medicolegal reports for the attention of the court. Usually an expert from outside of this jurisdiction will be instructed to ensure impartiality. The preferred expert should be familiar with at least the basic principles of clinical negligence law. That expert will be provided with the entirety of your notes and records, and a detailed letter setting out your allegations. Their report will consider whether the treatment provided to you was negligent, and if it was, what damage it caused as a result.
Depending upon the circumstances of your case, it may be that two, or indeed three medical reports are required in order to obtain a complete answer to the questions raised. For example, in cases where care was shared between the GP and the hospital, a report may have to be obtained from both an expert in general practice and a hospital consultant. Once in receipt of these reports, a decision will be made as to whether it is necessary to issue proceedings. It is only if the expert evidence indicates that negligence will be made out that this step will be taken. We will advise you fully at that time if we believe such a step is appropriate. If a claim for special loss or financial loss is being advanced as well as a claim for personal injury, then reports from an accountant or care expert will be sought to clarify the precise amount of financial loss sustained.
The formal commencement of proceedings for medical negligence in Northern Ireland is most commonly by way of the serving of a Writ of Summons. This puts the Defendant on notice that you intend to make a claim and they are required to respond (usually through their solicitors) by serving a Memorandum of Appearance. From this point on, the case will proceed by way of formal pleadings, which will be served through your solicitor. It may be that the Defendant’s representatives will arrange for their own medical evidence and that you will be obliged to attend for examination with their expert. Throughout this time, your case will be subject to regular review by the court, to ensure that it is progressing as quickly as possible. Typically, the quickest that a case will advance through the court to conclusion is 18 months from service of proceedings. More complicated cases can take up to three years from the service of the Writ of Summons before they are listed for hearing. Cases involving children can take even longer, mainly because the child’s prognosis may remain uncertain for quite some time after their birth.
Whilst many clinical negligence cases are resolved by way of negotiation, some do proceed to a full trial, and you should be prepared for this eventuality in all cases.