I’m thinking of speaking to a lawyer, what do I need to know?
Rob Antrobus leads the Enable Law team and, as part of his work, he has helped many families affected by medical negligence, including errors in the diagnosis and treatment of Group B Streptococcus. Often, potential clients will have the same concerns regarding the legal process, so Rob has put together a list of frequently asked questions regarding medical negligence and how your claim is likely to work.
1. If I decide to contact a lawyer, will it cost me anything?
Initially it shouldn’t cost you anything. Any specialist medical negligence lawyer worth their salt will happily give up their time to discuss the concerns you have. These initial discussions can take over an hour and may include a review of any paperwork you have. Once this has taken place, we will let you know if we think your claim warrants investigation. This is when we will let you know about likely costs. There are a number of funding options which could include legal aid or a conditional fee agreement (often referred to as a no-win no-fee agreement).
2. What will you ask me in the initial call?
Put simply, to tell your story and explain the concerns you have. When trying to evaluate whether a claim warrants investigation we are looking to see whether we can identify a breach of duty (whether the hospital did or didn’t do something they should have done). In a recent case I investigated, Mum called because she was aware that she was showing signs of an infection during her labour so asked for antibiotics but was not given them. This was enough information to be able to consider breach of duty.
We also need to consider whether any breach of duty caused an injury. We’ll ask questions about your child’s current condition and whether there are indications that this is linked to what happened. For example, in the case where Mum said she had concerns that she was not given antibiotics for GBS, her child subsequently suffered a stroke. It was indicated that this was due to her passing the infection to her child and this resulted in a blood clot forming which caused a stroke. We can say that if antibiotics had been given earlier, it is likely the infection would not have been passed to the child. This is known as causation and, along with a breach of duty, is the basis of any medical negligence claim.
3. If you think the claim warrants investigation, then what?
If we think the claim warrants investigation, we will then formally enter into a contract with you. We will discuss the funding routes open to you and ensure that you are given the option which suits your particular situation best.
Once this is finalised, our first step is to obtain medical records for both mum and child from all hospitals and GPs attended. This process can take quite some time. Upon receipt of the medical records, they will then be sorted and collated and reviewed by our specialist team. We will also then take a very detailed statement from you before moving on to instruct an expert to report on the standard of care received.
If this report supports your claim, we will then need evidence on causation, which is likely to be from a different expert. Once we have that evidence, we will hopefully be in a position to submit a “Letter of Claim” to the hospital, a document that sets out our concerns on the care received. The hospital is then given a period of time to investigate the claim themselves before providing a response.
4. With that much work, how long does this all take?
Investigating a medical negligence claim can take a long time and there are certain steps which can take months to conclude. Obtaining medical records can take up to 6 weeks and, as many experts are extremely busy, it is not uncommon to wait several months for a report. Therefore, I always advise my clients that a claim will take at least 2 years to be investigated. If a claim is successful it can take many, many years to conclude. This is often because we need to wait until our client’s condition is settled enough to be able to fully understand the impact on their lives. In child brain injury cases, the maturation of the brain can have a significant impact on how well it will function in later life.
5. Will I have to go to Court?
It is highly unlikely you will need to go to court and give evidence, however, it is possible. Statistically only a very small percentage of cases go to trial, let alone those involving medical negligence. During the whole process we are trying to settle the claim without having to go to trial. However, if we are not able to reach a compromise, then there is always the possibility that you will have to go to Court.
That said, when cases involving children settle pre trial, they sometimes do require attendance at Court as a Judge has to approve the settlement, to ensure that it is in the child’s best interests.