What is Gross Negligence Manslaughter and How Can You Make a Claim?

 

Medical negligence is caused when a medical professional fails to perform their role to a reasonable standard. But what happens when that professional’s actions fall so far below the standard that a death was the only foreseeable outcome?

This is a complex area of medical law, and that is why it is important to discuss it with a specialist solicitor if you think you might have a claim.

In this post, our solicitors look at the key points that differentiate simple medical negligence from gross negligence manslaughter, and talk about the legal steps involved in a claim for gross negligence manslaughter.

What is Gross Negligence Manslaughter?

Gross negligence manslaughter is a crime that is committed when someone in an official position commits an unlawful act that they should have been able to see would result in the death of another.

People this could include are:

  • Medical professionals such as doctors or nurses
  • An employee in a business
  • Someone supervising people who are in the custody of the state (in prison)

It has to be proved they ignored a duty of care towards the person who was killed.

How is Gross Negligence proven?

The tests to determine whether gross negligence manslaughter caused a death are like those used to tell whether medical negligence took place, but because it is such a serious crime, there are additional elements to the test:

Breach of Duty

Did the person who has been accused have a duty of care towards the person who was killed? The jury will look at what a reasonably competent person doing the same job would do in an identical situation.

Causation

What caused the death? It needs to be proven that the actions of the person accused led to the death. A claim where this can’t be done wouldn’t be successful.

To read more about the legal tests for medical negligence, see our article on “What is Causation in Medical Negligence?

Grossness

The key difference between medical negligence and gross negligence is that the breach of duty must have gone beyond “normal” negligence, and become “gross”, which is another way of saying it was criminal.

An Obvious Risk of Death

The final element is that during the time that the breach of duty happened, it must have been obvious to the person who has been accused that there was a reasonable chance it would end in someone else’s death. They do not necessarily need to have known who it would kill, however. An example would be someone operating dangerous machinery on a building site – they should know that if proper safety guidelines aren’t followed, they could cause a death, but they may not know who exactly would die.

Examples of Gross Negligence Manslaughter Medical Cases

R v Adomako – the definition of Gross Negligence Manslaughter

This definition of what constitutes gross negligence manslaughter was created as the result of an unsuccessful appeal regarding the case of R v Adomako. The defendant in that case was an anaesthetist who failed to notice that an oxygen pipe had been disconnected from their patient’s ventilator for six minutes, resulting in the death of their patient and a conviction for manslaughter.

Because a guilty verdict could result in a prison sentence, a gross negligence manslaughter claim uses a more rigorous standard of “proving beyond reasonable doubt” that the four elements which make up the test have been met.

Early cases of gross negligence manslaughter used an old law that had been repealed by the time of R v Adomako, which is why the House of Lords decided to implement more rigorous test.

The Case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba

A recent case of gross negligence manslaughter which was featured in the press is that of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba. The case was controversial because many people believe that Dr Bawa-Garba was herself a victim of systemic failures within the NHS, and it was these failures that led to the death of her patient, a six-year-old boy named Jack Adcock.

Dr Bawa-Garba had recently returned from her maternity leave when she was made responsible for Jack’s care. He was having trouble breathing, amongst other symptoms, and with pre-diagosed heart problems this was a concern. There was no senior consultant available, and Dr Bawa-Garba had to cover the work of two other doctors due to gaps in the rota. The consultant who should have been on call had not realised, and so was off-site for most of the day.

A cascade of errors led to Jack’s death – Dr Bawa-Garba had not told his mother to stop administering his heart medication, and he was moved to the room which a different patient under a Do Not Resuscitate Order had that day been moved from without Dr Bawa-Garba’s knowledge. When Jack suffered a cardiac arrest Dr Bawa-Garba initially believed him to be the other patient, and stopped the resuscitation attempt. By the time it was restarted it was too late, and Jack passed away.

Making a Claim for Gross Negligence Manslaughter

If you feel that gross negligence manslaughter happened to a loved one while they were receiving medical treatment, the best thing you could do is speak to an expert medical negligence solicitor. A good solicitor will be able to help you decide if gross negligence manslaughter was involved, and if it was, you will then need to report that to the police.