Clinical Negligence FAQ
- I have been injured as a result of medical treatment, what are my options?
There are a number of options available to persons who have been injured following medical or dental treatment. You can complain to the doctor or hospital responsible for your care; lodge a formal complaint with the hospital Trust involved; report the matter to the Ombudsman for Northern Ireland; or notify the regulatory body for the medical practitioner responsible, if appropriate.
Alternatively, you can of course consult a solicitor about bringing a claim for medical negligence.
- Can I make a claim?
You will only be able to make a claim for clinical negligence if you are able to prove that negligence has occurred in your care. Essentially, this means you must establish that the treatment provided to you fell below the standard that a reasonable doctor should have provided. The fact that something untoward has occurred, or that you have experienced a poor outcome, does not in itself automatically mean that negligence has occurred. There is a legal test which must be satisfied. We will be able to assist you in advising whether or not this has occurred in the circumstances of your case.
Some examples of clinical negligence include – failure to diagnose, surgical error, delay in diagnosis, dental negligence, birth trauma, defective product, cosmetic surgery claims, errors in prescription, administration and dispensing of drugs.
- Are there time limits for bringing a medical negligence claim?
Yes. The normal rule is that proceedings must have been issued within three years of the date of the incident or treatment complained of. However, time does not begin to run against the injured party until they become aware of the potential negligence. This is known as the ‘date of knowledge.’
There are some limited exceptions to this rule. In cases involving children, the limitation period does not begin until their eighteenth birthday, which effectively means they have until they are 21 to pursue a claim. An adult who is unable to manage his or her own affairs because of a mental disability will usually be exempt from the three year rule.
- How do I make a claim?
We would be happy to offer you an initial consultation free of charge to help assess the potential merits of your claim. After considering the facts of your case, we will be in a position to advise you further as to whether, in our opinion, it is worth investigating the case further.
We usually begin such an investigation by obtaining full copies of your medical notes and records and preparing a chronology of events. A report from a suitably qualified independent expert is then obtained. It is only at this juncture that we can advise further as to your prospects of success and whether or not proceedings are warranted. In the event that legal proceedings are issued, some cases may proceed to trial, whilst others are settled by way of negotiation with the Defendants solicitor.
- How much will it cost to bring a claim and how will I pay for it?
We offer an initial free consultation to help assess whether it is worth pursuing your claim. If we consider that there is a case to be investigated, we will advise you about the most appropriate funding options at that time. We will ask a number of detailed questions to assess whether you will qualify for legal assistance, and if appropriate, a legal aid application will be made. Alternatively, some people will find that their policy of household insurance has legal expenses indemnity which will cover the costs of investigating a clinical negligence claim. In some cases, people will be obliged to fund the cost of an investigation themselves, and full advices will be given about the potential costs if necessary.
- How long will it take?
This depends upon a number of factors, and in particular upon the attitude adopted by the Defendants to the claim. In general, if the Defendant admits liability at the commencement of the claim, then it will take considerably less time to investigate and resolve the case. Most claims take around 12-18 months to investigate, and if court proceedings are required, then a further 12-18 months on average will be required.
Cases involving children can take longer to conclude, mainly because it will be important to observe how the child’s condition progresses in order to avoid under-settlement.
- How much compensation can I expect to receive?
The amount of compensation awarded in each case can vary considerably. Essentially, each case will be determined on its own individual facts and there is no hard and fast rule. In general terms a compensation claim for clinical negligence will take into account the severity of the injury sustained, the pain and suffering which the Plaintiff has endured, along with any financial loss which has been incurred.
Future financial costs may include the costs of specialist equipment or treatment, care or adaptations which would not have been necessary were it not for the negligent incident. They will also take into account the amount of future earnings that would be lost as a result of the medical negligence. For example, if the Plaintiff is not able to continue work at all and has to give up their employment, it may be possible to claim for loss of earnings up to retirement age. A loss of pension may also be recoverable. Detailed consideration of the financial element of every claim is required in order to assess these matters in full.