Medical negligence is substandard medical treatment which causes a patient avoidable injury, illness or death.
Doctors and health professionals owe a duty to their patients to exercise reasonable care in carrying out their professional skills. Failure to do so may result in a patient being able to bring a compensation claim.
To succeed in a claim for medical negligence it is necessary to prove:
- The medical professional treating you owed you a duty of care and breached this duty.
- That as a result of that breach of duty you suffered injuries and/or a financial loss.
1. BREACH OF DUTY OF CARE
In most medical negligence cases, establishing that a health professional owed you a duty of care is unlikely to be a problem.
To establish that there has been a breach of this duty it must be shown that the treatment in question fell below the standard of a reasonably competent practitioner in the relevant field.
The burden rests with the Claimant to prove that there has been a breach of this duty of care. In order to prove this it is therefore usually necessary to obtain expert evidence from an independent specialist in that particular field, in which the care provided to a patient is assessed in detail and a view is formed as to whether or not this met the relevant standard.
What is the relevant standard? All doctors/health professionals are required to exercise the ordinary skill of a competent doctor/health professional in their field. They must exercise this skill in accordance with a responsible body of medical opinion skilled in that area of medicine.
A doctor/health professional will not be regarded as being negligent if there is another responsible body of medical opinion who would have acted in the same way as the treating clinician. This is because there may be more than one responsible method of carrying out the treatment.
What is a responsible body of medical opinion is decided by the views of the medical experts on each side. In the case of Bolitho v City and Hackney Health Authority (1997), the House of Lords held that where the body of expert opinion cannot be logically supported, the evidence can be rejected on the grounds that it is not reasonable.
For these reasons, it can be difficult to establish a breach of the duty of care.
If it can be proved the doctor/health professional in the relevant field was negligent, the next step is to show that the negligence caused some harm, i.e. an injury.
Often, establishing causation can be problematic in medical negligence cases because the patient will have been receiving treatment in any event. This means that where an injury occurred from another cause, e.g., a non-negligent aspect of the treatment or from the initial injury or illness itself, it will not be possible to proceed with the claim.
It must be shown on the balance of probabilities that some foreseeable and significant loss or damage would not have occurred to the patient but for the breach of duty of care. Or alternatively, that the breach of duty of care which occurred has materially contributed to the patient’s injuries.
Due to the difficulties there are in establishing the two elements required to bring a successful medical negligence claim such cases require specialist expertise. We at Freemans have such expertise.
Please call one of our solicitors today on 0191 222 1030 for a free consultation in relation to your claim or complete our website enquiry form.