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Bringing a Medical Negligence Claim on Behalf of Your Child

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Sustaining an injury during medical treatment is distressing for any patient but can be particularly upsetting when it involves a child. If you are the parent or guardian of a child who has suffered due to a substandard of care during treatment, you may find the following questions and answers on this topic useful.

What is paediatric medical negligence?

Paediatric medical negligence refers to a failure in the standard of medical care provided to a child, resulting in preventable harm. This negligence can occur in various settings, including hospitals, clinics, or private practices, and encompasses misdiagnoses, incorrect treatments, medication errors, surgical mistakes, or failures in monitoring a child’s condition. The distinction from adult medical negligence lies in the unique considerations required for children’s physiology and development. Consequences of such negligence can be particularly devastating given the long-term impact they may have on a child’s growth, development, and overall quality of life.

What might constitute negligence or malpractice by a paediatrician?

Negligence or malpractice by a paediatrician occurs when there’s a breach of the standard of care that results in harm to the child. Some of the most common areas where breaches in the standard of care occur, and where you may have the basis to bring a paediatric medical negligence claim, include the following:

  • Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis – Failing to correctly diagnose a child’s condition, or taking too long to diagnose it, can lead to inappropriate treatment or worsening of their condition.
  • Medication Errors – This may involve prescribing the wrong medication, the wrong dose, or failing to consider potential drug interactions.
  • Failure to Monitor – Not tracking a child’s reaction to a treatment or illness, which could lead to complications.
  • Surgical Errors – Mistakes made during surgical procedures, including use of incorrect medical devices or equipment during the surgery.
  • Poor Follow-up or Aftercare – Failing to provide post-treatment guidelines or not adequately monitoring a child after a procedure.
  • Failure to Order Necessary Tests – Missing crucial diagnostic steps that might have identified a condition or issue.
  • Ignoring or Misreading Lab Results – Overlooking vital signs of illness or conditions in test results.
  • Improper Use of Equipment – Using medical devices incorrectly, leading to injury.
  • Failure to Obtain Informed Consent – Not explaining the risks of a procedure or treatment and obtaining parental or guardian agreement.
  • Failure to Refer – If a paediatrician doesn’t have the expertise to treat a particular condition, not referring the child to a specialist could be seen as negligence.

It’s important to note that for a claim of negligence or malpractice to be valid, there must be a demonstrated breach of the paediatrician’s duty of care, and that breach must have directly resulted in harm to the child.

What are the most common types of injuries sustained by children due to medical malpractice?

Children can sustain a variety of injuries due to medical malpractice, but some of the most common include:

  • Birth Injuries – These can range from fractures to more severe injuries like cerebral palsy or Erb’s palsy, often resulting from complications during delivery or negligence in prenatal care.
  • Brain Injuries – These can occur from a lack of oxygen during a procedure, trauma during birth, or medication errors.
  • Surgical Errors – Incorrect surgical procedures can result in organ damage, infections, or complications due to left-behind surgical instruments.
  • Medication Overdose – Administering incorrect dosages can lead to a range of complications, from mild reactions to severe organ damage or death.
  • Misdiagnosis-Related Complications – Incorrectly diagnosing conditions can lead to untreated progression of diseases or complications from unnecessary treatments.
  • Infections – These can arise from unsterile environments, procedures, or improperly placed medical devices, such as catheters.
  • Fractures or Physical Injuries – These can result from falls due to inadequate supervision in medical facilities or poorly executed medical procedures.
  • Emotional or Psychological Trauma – This can arise from traumatic medical experiences, especially if procedures are conducted without proper communication or in a distressing manner.

Each of these injuries can have profound effects on the child’s development, quality of life, and long-term health, making the implications of paediatric medical malpractice especially significant.

Can I bring a paediatric medical negligence claim on behalf of my child?

Yes. If your child has suffered harm due to medical negligence, you, as a parent or legal guardian, can initiate a paediatric negligence compensation claim on their behalf. The person who brings the claim for the child is referred to as the child’s “next friend.” This representative is typically a parent or close family member. It’s important to note that any compensation awarded belongs to the child, and the funds are usually held in a court-controlled account until the child reaches the age of 18, unless they are released earlier for specific purposes beneficial to the child.

How does the statute of limitations differ for children and adults?

In Ireland, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims, including medical negligence cases, is generally two years for adults. However, for children, the situation is different. A child cannot bring a claim themselves until they turn 18. Once they become an adult at 18, the two-year statute of limitations begins, allowing them until their 20th birthday to initiate a claim. Therefore, while adults typically have two years from the date of the incident (or date of knowledge of the harm) to initiate a claim, children have until they are 20 to do so, given the protections extended to minors in legal matters.

If you are the guardian or parent of a child and you are concerned about suspected medical malpractice involving your child, it is always best to seek counsel with an experienced medical negligence solicitor as early as possible.

Will my child and I need to go to court?

While many paediatric negligence claims are settled out of court through negotiations, there are some instances where a case might proceed to trial if both parties cannot agree on liability or compensation. However, even if a case goes to court, it doesn’t necessarily mean your child will have to appear or give evidence. The legal teams involved will usually try to minimise the stress for the child and family. Thankfully, most medical negligence claims are settled out of court, so this should not be a major concern when bringing a claim.

What sort of compensation can I expect if I win my case?

If you win a paediatric negligence case, the compensation awarded is intended to cover both past and future damages. The amount varies based on the specifics of the case but generally includes:

  • General Damages – Compensation for pain and suffering experienced by the child due to the injury.
  • Special Damages – Covers financial losses, such as medical expenses, therapy costs, and other related expenses incurred.
  • Future Losses – Estimated costs for future care, treatment, or therapies required, and potential lost earnings if the child’s ability to work is impacted.

The exact amount will be determined by the severity and lasting impact of the negligence on the child’s life.

Has your child sustained an injury in a medical setting?

If you are the parent or guardian of a child who has sustained an injury in a hospital, clinic, or healthcare environment, you may have further questions regarding bringing a compensation claim on their behalf. You can speak to a solicitor in the medical negligence team at McCarthy + Co by calling us on 1800 390 555. An experienced member of staff will discuss your situation and potential next steps. You can also email info@mccarthy.ie and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is a seasoned solicitor with almost 20 years of experience, specialises in personal injury and medical negligence claims, focusing particularly on high-value compensation cases. His extensive litigation experience spans Circuit Court, High Court and Supreme Court levels. John's practice involves a diverse range of cases, from personal injury and wrongful death to property damage, defective products, professional negligence and judicial reviews.

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