What is the purpose of bringing a medical negligence claim?

While you may think that the answer to this question is so obvious that it doesn’t warrant asking, you’d be surprised at the number of people who expect outcomes from a medical negligence action which are impossible to secure.  This is why I believe that it’s worth considering what can and cannot reasonably be expected if you intend to take a case.

The sole purpose of bringing a medical negligence claim is to secure monetary compensation for the pain, suffering and financial loss which you have endured as a result of receiving substandard medical care.  While the process of bringing such a claim may have the psychologically desirable effect of drawing a line under what will probably have been a very traumatic and unpleasant experience, if this does occur it will be a happy coincidence rather than being a guaranteed outcome.

Many (if not most) people who have been injured by medical negligence bring a claim in the hope that it will lead to the hospital or healthcare professional involved being compelled to give a comprehensive, truthful ‘blow-by-blow’ account of what actually happened to them, bearing in mind that in many cases a patient will have no clue what was done to them, whether by reason of their being under anaesthetic or otherwise.

But the sad reality, which may come as a shock to you, is that healthcare professionals bear absolutely no legally enforceable duty of candour to their patients, even where malpractice has been alleged.  Indeed it’s often the case that the hospital or doctor’s lawyers will adopt the position of only divulging those pieces of information that they know or suspect that the injured party is in a position to prove in an effort to secure a tactical advantage in the proceedings.

Likewise, it would be naïve to expect that the outcome of your claim will be the public chastisement of the hospital or medical practitioner who has been guilty of negligence.  Often cases are fully defended to the very last minute before the trial is due to begin, and only then is a settlement agreed where the defendant doesn’t even admit liability.

That’s not to say that there’s no forum for seeking to have disciplinary measures imposed on members of the medical profession who have misbehaved.  If there has been unconscionable behaviour on the part of a doctor they may be subjected to investigation by the Medical Council’s Fitness to Practice Committee and, if any of the allegations of impropriety are proven, sanctions ranging from the imposition of a fine up to cancelling a doctor’s registration can be imposed.  See the section entitled ‘Who will pay my compensation and what consequences will the medical practitioner face?’ for more details in this regard.

However, while the defence tactics that are used by the lawyers for healthcare practitioners are frequently objectionable, resulting in the injured person being subjected to more completely avoidable suffering at the hands of someone who’s supposed to have their best interests at heart, it’s also extremely important to remember that just because a healthcare professional has been found negligent in civil proceedings this doesn’t mean that they have been guilty of misconduct.

In the vast majority of medical negligence cases the practitioners concerned have done nothing more than make an error in professional judgment which has caused a patient harm.  While the implications of this mistake may be profound for the patient, where the medical practitioner has attempted to deliver care to an acceptable standard but has failed due to human error in the absence of any malice or wanton carelessness, a medical negligence claim will be confined to seeking monetary redress for the damage which has been caused, without seeking to vilify the negligent party.  Bearing this in mind, it’s hard to comprehend why, in so many cases, the defence lawyers adopt such a completely unhelpful position which can often lead to insult quite literally being added to injury, with the victim of medical negligence feeling as if they are being mistreated yet again by the health system or practitioner in which they had placed their trust.

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*In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or proportion of any award or settlement.

John specialises in personal injury and medical negligence claims. His practice focuses on high value compensation cases. He has extensive experience in this area of litigation for over 10 years. Read more