How medical negligence cases work
Medical negligence cases are usually complex and challenging. They also take a long time. Even the most straightforward medical negligence case is unlikely to settle in less than a year. Many complex cases last more than two years.
There are a number of stages to a medical negligence case and these are set out in this page.
The start of your claim
The first thing your solicitor will need to do is to obtain a full set of all of your medical records. These will be from the hospital at which you allege you were treated negligently, other hospitals at which you have been treated, your GP, and any other therapists you have seen, such as physiotherapists.
This process can take a suprisingly long time, even where, as at Medical Negligence London, your solicitor has dealt with obtaining records many hundreds of times. The challenge is to make sure that you obtain a complete set of medical records, and an experienced medical negligence solicitor will be able to look at a set of records and identify missing test results, scans, documents and other information that may be relevant to the case.
Once the records have been obtained they need to be collated and organised and a chronology of key events prepared, afterwhich they can be given to a medical expert to give his or her initial view on whether there has been negligence.
Some solicitors may have the papers looked at by nurse, GP or general surgeon at this stage to give their overall impression. At Medical Negligence London our experience has taught us that there is no substitute for the chronology and key documents being reviewed by a leading expert in the relevant medical field. It is for this reason that the Medical Negligence London team will spend a lot of time determining the best medical expert to instruct.
Frequently, because of our long history in medical negligence law, we will approach a doctor we have used previously. But this is by no means always the case and in every case we will give great thought to choosing the right doctor for the job. Sometimes this could mean significant delay. We have had cases where the doctor we wanted on the case told us it would take over a year to see him. Obviously we will discuss with the client their options, but in some cases, where there is a highly specialist medical issue at stake, waiting a year to get the best expert is worth it and will be what we advise.
Letter of claim
Before a court actually gets involved (the term used is "proceedings are issued") there is usually a lengthy process of negotiation that starts with your solicitor preparing a "Letter of Claim." The parties will follow what is known as the pre-action protocol, which are guidelines as to how they should conduct themselves at the outset of the claim. The Letter of Claim sets out in detail the factual circumstances, the reason why negligence is alleged, and the injury that has been suffered because of the negligence. The Letter of Claim is a key document and if well prepared, and supported by strong medical evidence, can often be enough to convince the Defendant to settle the claim. Where strategically appropriate, the Letter of Claim can include an offer to settle - although in large value claims this would be rare as it would not be possible, at this stage, to have fully calculated the extent and scope of the injury and therefore the value of the claim.
Starting the case (issuing proceedings)
If settlement cannot be reached following the letter of claim and during the preaction protocol stage it will be necessary to start the formal court process.
Formal Court proceedings
Once proceedings begin the court sets a timetable for key steps - exchanging expert evidence, experts meeting to discuss the case, witness statement, and numerous other stages that are part of the litigation process.
Settlement, joint meetings and mediation
Whilst these proceedings are ongoing, both parties will consider their options for settling the case and there are various ways outside of the court process that parties can negotiate with a view to reaching a settlement. Effective negotiation is an essential skill for a medical negligence solicitor and the key to effective negotiation is understanding the strength of both your case and that of your opponents. Most of Medical Negligence London's cases settle, but where agreement cannot be reached, for example because the amount being offered by the Defendant is too low or because the Defendant does not admit they were at fault, the case will proceed to trial.
Trials in medical negligence cases usually take place in the High Court. Well before the case goes to trial Medical Negligence London will have brought on to the case team a highly skilled and accomplished barrister and this barrister will have conduct of your case at trial in close coordination with Medical Negligence London.
Although most of Medical Negligence London's cases settle, we relish the opportunity to take cases to trial, and never hestitate to advise taking a medical negligence case to trial where that is in the best interests of our client.