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Medical Accident Compensation: Frequently Asked Questions

What is a medical accident?

Every doctor, surgeon, dentist or other medical worker in this country, from a top consultant surgeon to a hospital porter, owes a duty to treat each patient to the best of their ability and in line with generally accepted best medical practice. In the medical world there can often be significant difference of opinion about what should or should not be done to treat a particular condition or illness. The law recognises that since medical knowledge is always changing, different but nevertheless justifiable opinions can be held by medical professionals. It is not the law’s place to say whether one medical opinion is more valid than another. What the law does say, though, is that if a patient’s treatment was such that no reasonable medical professional (or body of professionals) could have justified it, then it will be negligent in law and if injury or damage is done as a consequence, the patient may be able to claim medical accident compensation.

This also means that provided a medical choice would have been supported by a sufficiently large number of medical practitioners, it will not be negligent to follow that choice, even if another set of medical practitioners disagree with it.

It is important to remember that just because a course of action did not turn out as well as was hoped it doesn't mean that an error has been made. 

On the other hand, it will nearly always be negligent to:-

  • Carry out any procedure incompetently, no matter what its nature;

  • Fail to give the patient sufficient information about the pros and cons to enable them to make an informed choice about the risks of any procedure;

  • Actively conceal from a patient something which would probably have had a strong bearing on the choices they made about treatment;

  • Mislead a patient;

  • Go beyond the treatment agreed upon, unless there was some reasonable cause to do so;

  • Carry out treatment which is plainly beyond the competence of the medical practitioner involved or completely outside their area of skill.

Some examples that would give rise to a claim for medical accident compensation include:-

  • Carrying out surgery to the wrong part of the body;

  • Failing to diagnose disease, illness or injury when no reasonable medical practitioner would have made that mistake;

  • Prescribing wholly incorrect or inappropriate medication or treatment with no reasonable cause;

  • Causing avoidable injury without medically justifiable reason;

  • Making a serious and avoidable error of judgment which no reasonable medical practitioner would have made.

Not every medical error or unsuccessful procedure gives a right to a medical accident compensation claim but every patient is entitled to a full and fair explanation when things have not gone as expected.

What is “causation” in a medical accident claim?

Even if it can be shown that there has been negligence by a medical practitioner, it also has to be shown that there has been some damage, injury or loss caused as a result of that negligence. There has to be some tenable, causal link between the two events. This is sometimes a tricky concept to grasp. It is natural for the patient whose surgery or treatment has been carried out carelessly to expect that they should get medical accident compensation; but if, despite the carelessness, no damage has actually been done then there is no claim for medical naccident compensation.

For example, if someone is carelessly prescribed incorrect medication but despite taking it they suffer no harm either immediately or in the long term then there will be no claim. They could expect the doctor involved to be disciplined by their professional body but that is a different matter. Similarly, if surgery is carried out carelessly but the actual result is the same as it would have been had it been done correctly and no damage has been suffered then there will be no entitlement to medical accident compensation.

As specialist solicitors we can investigate the full implications behind any treatment and advise you whether a valid medical accident compensation claim is likley to arise.

Do I have a valid medical accident compensation claim?

To be entitled to medical accident compensation you have to show that it was caused by negligence. It is not enough simply that the treatment did not succeed or was not as successful as had been hoped. However it is never too early to ask for advice from a specialist medical accident lawyer – we are always happy to have an informal chat and give you an initial opinion about a possible claim and will do so entirely free of charge.

If you or someone close to you believes their medical treatment has been sub-standard and you would like to know what to do, give us a call or email us at info@medicalaccidentlawyers.co.uk

How long will a medical accident compensation claim take?

By their nature, medical accident compensation claims require a certain amount of “up front” investigation before a definitive view can be given on the prospects of success. The patient’s full medical notes will generally be needed, plus a report from an independent medical expert who can give an opinion on whether what was done (or not done) equates to medical negligence. A further specialist report may be necessary to consider the patient’s medical condition and what impact the negligence had had on it. This enables us to advise on the likely level of medical accident compensation the claim will attract.

In general terms, the more complex and serious the injury suffered, the longer it will take for the full picture of that injury to become clear. It is rarely advisable to settle any medical accident compensation claim in a hurry since a claimant cannot re-open the case later if their condition turns out to be worse than expected. You only get one bite of the cherry so it's important to ensure that the case has been thoroughly investigated before agreeing to a ;full and final' settlement.

As a rough guide, the average time to settle moderate value medical accident compensation claim is around 12-18 months. This can be a lot shorter in simple cases where liability is admitted quickly and the injury has resolved; but it can also be significantly longer in more serious cases or where there is a strong argument about whether the defendant is liable at all.

How much medical accident compensation can I expect to receive?

There is no set tariff or scale for medical accident compensation. The level of compensation depends on the degree of damage and lasting injury, so every claim is different, even if the nature of the injury is similar to someone else’s.

Medical accident compensation can vary from £1,000 to several million pounds for the most serious cases. We obtain reports from independent medical experts to assess the consequences for the patient and will advise on the likely range of compensation in the light of the expert’s conclusions. Where the doctor or NHS Trust involved has admitted responsibility, we can obtain interim compensation to help with financial worries. This is particularly important where the nature of the injury is such that the claim cannot be settled for some time.

Will I have to pay legal costs?

If we deal with your medical accident compensation claim on a no win, no fee basis you will not have to pay for the time we spend on the case up front or if you lose the case. We may need you to contribute towards expenses such as the cost of obtaining medical records or a medical expert’s report.

We will tell you where you stand in relation to legal costs and if you are likely to have to pay anything – win or lose.

What can I claim for?

These are some of the things you can claim compensation for when making a medical accident compensation claim:-

  • Pain and suffering;

  • Loss of amenity;

  • Loss of earnings (past and future);

  • Reduced employment prospects;

  • Cost of care;

  • Cost of medication;

  • Cost of private medical treatment.

Who will deal with my medical accident compensation claim?

Serious medical accident compensation claims are dealt with by senior lawyers at partnership level. We pride ourselves on offering a high quality, fully personalised service. We are not one of those claims companies you see advertised on TV where claims are processed on a mass scale. Our clients are treated as people, not numbers. Our experienced medical negligence solicitors like to build an understanding with the client so that the client feels comfortable talking to us and communicating all the information we need to recover the full amount of compensation for them.

Our clinical negligence team is headed by partner Oliver Thorne, who has dealt with several high profile cases and is representing over 200 British women who are seeking compensation in the French courts in repect of PIP breast implants.

 

Are there any time limits?

Yes! The primary period for bringing a medical accident compensation claim is three years from the date of the negligence or the date you first knew (or could realistically have been expected to know) that injury had been caused through someone else’s fault.

The courts can exercise discretion in medical accident cases and for children the period by which court proceedings must have commenced is 21 years of age (ie 18 years plus three years).

The best advice is to act quickly as soon as you think that a medical accident may have occurred.

If in doubt, call our free medical accident helpline, or email us for a free case assessment.

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