What is Medical Negligence?
Most people would feel confident about recognising negligence in everyday life, but in the field of medical law it has a very specific meaning. Many potential clients suffer unfortunate outcomes of treatment and feel they have a claim only to be advised by me that their circumstances are unlikely to meet the strict requirements for negligence.
There are two components to medical negligence and both must be satisfied for the claim to succeed.
Breach of duty
All patients are owed a duty of care by their doctor and any breach of that duty potentially gives rise to a claim. It is not sufficient that the care provided was not of the highest standard and in most medical disciplines there will be a number of potentially reasonable approaches to any given problem. To establish breach of duty, a claimant must satisfy the Court that the relevant treatment fell below the minimum acceptable standard expected of reasonably competent and skilful specialist in the relevant field. There are invariably different schools of thought on issues of breach of duty and the Court’s decision will often depend on which independent expert witness is preferred by the Judge.
If you can establish a breach of duty, the next hurdle to negotiate is causation.
Causation can be notoriously complex depending on the circumstances of the case and countless hours of legal argument have been devoted to it over the years. However, in simple terms, to establish causation a claimant must show that an injury for which compensation should be paid has resulted directly from a breach of duty. Consideration of causation will entail consideration of what the situation would have been in the absence of the breach of duty and determining whether the actual outcome is worse. In many cases of delayed diagnosis causation is not established and the claim fails because the expert evidence is that the delay has not affected the outcome. A pre-existing condition makes proving causation difficult; disentangling the effects of the breach of duty from what would have happened anyway is challenging and the onus is always on the Claimant to positively prove the case.
Despite the challenges, we frequently achieve successful outcomes in medical negligence cases. Given the complexities of this area of law, if you are contemplating a potential claim, it is crucial that you seek advice from a specialist.