The vast majority of claims made for medical negligence in Ireland result from cases that originated in the emergency room, usually because of a misdiagnosis or failure to act. This is probably due to a number of factors, namely the intense pressure placed upon doctors – especially junior staff – to deal with cases quickly. However, this article will also deal with other instances in which it is appropriate for a patient to make a claim for medical negligence compensation in Ireland.
It is important to note not all medical negligence claims need to relate to hospital negligence: if a dentist, GP, optician, psychologist or other healthcare worker was negligent in their duty of care, the patient may claim for compensation provided that the injury was preventable under the circumstances of the case. Additionally, the Injuries Board Ireland does not deal with applications for medical negligence compensation, so the claimant will be reliant upon their solicitor to make the claim.
Procedures for Claiming Medical Negligence Compensation
The first step should always be to consult an experienced medical negligence solicitor. The potential claimant will then have to detail the exact nature of his or her experience and how he or she was affected by it. It will also be important to explain how any injuries are a result of medical negligence.
Should the solicitor decide that the client has ground for a medical negligence claim, it will be necessary to provide strong evidence of any medical treatment. The case will then often be reviewed by an independent medical professional to ensure that what you are claiming is factual and indeed the result of medical negligence.
Making a Claim for Medical Negligence Compensation
After the initial discussion and background check, the solicitor will make an official complaint to the medical practitioner’s regulator, the hospital or the Healthcare Ombudsman. Usually a “Letter of Claim” is then submitted, though this may depend upon the nature of the medical negligence claim. The letter should detail all evidence that supports the compensation claim and the report from the independent expert.
This will often spur an offer of compensation from the negligent party’s insurance company, though if this does not happen your solicitor may try to open negotiations. If, in turn, these fail the case will be resolved in court.
Values for Compensation Settlements
Accurate estimates of compensation settlements for medical negligence are hard to make: many factors, such as the severity of injuries, the effect on quality of life and the long term prognosis may all impact the level of compensation received. A solicitor should be able to give an estimate after reviewing the details of the case, and it is important to provide financial records of any costs incurred such that special damages – if applicable – can be sought.
The process of claiming compensation is often drawn-out, and in some cases can take many years. Should this put unnecessary financial pressure on the claimant, the solicitor may be able to apply for interim settlements to alleviate the pressure until total resolution of the claim.
Examples of Medical Negligence Claims in Ireland
There are a myriad of cases and scenarios that would qualify a patient for medical negligence compensation. In the media, the most covered cases are those involving infants that were dramatically disabled at birth. As these cases are often made on the behalf of a minor, a legal guardian will have to act as the “next friend” of the child and represent him or her in negotiations and in the courts.
Though, as was previously clarified, not all claims for medical negligence need concern hospital negligence: residents of care homes that have failed in their duty of care may also seek compensation. Negligence in nursing care may cause the deterioration of a pre-existing condition or otherwise impact the quality of life of the resident.
Additionally, compensation may be sought for negligent dental procedures. If the dentist carried out an unnecessary procedure, or conducted one without due care, misdiagnosed an oral disease or extracted the incorrect tooth, it may be possible to claim compensation.
Compensation may also be claimed if medication causes an adverse side-effect or interacts with other prescription drugs. If it can be proven that the prescription was inappropriate given the circumstances, it can constitute medical negligence.
Before any medical procedure is carried out, it is a requirement that all risks are explained to the patient before the procedure is carried out. It is a legal requirement that you are informed: not to do so constitutes negligence.
There are many instances in which it would be possible to claim for surgical negligence. One complicated example of this would be anesthetic awareness. The complication lies in the fact that it is difficult to understand exactly what the patient endured during the procedure. Compensation is often made for psychological trauma, as the patient is usually at least partially numbed.
Both misdiagnoses and failures to act upon test results can have dramatic consequences for patients. They often lead to the deterioration of a pre-existing condition, and in diseases such as cancer, can delay treatment enough that the case becomes terminal. The failure to act is a breach of the healthcare professional’s duty of care, and can include a range of scenarios such as requesting inappropriate diagnostic tests or a failure to refer.
In the case of misdiagnoses, it has to be shown that, given the evidence at the time, a competent medical professional could have made a diagnosis. Most misdiagnoses are attributable to human error and an overworked system.
To endure medical negligence is often devastating and traumatising. The impacts can be far-reaching, and yet it can be difficult to claim compensation. Interim settlements can be made available, and are often put in place for cases involving birth injuries. Given the diverse nature of medical negligence cases, and the lengthy negotiations they often entail, it is advisable to seek legal counsel as soon as possible after the negligence has been noted.