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Death caused by medical negligence

Making a claim after a loved one has died

Coming to terms with the loss of a loved one is difficult but is often made worse if the family feel that their relative did not receive acceptable care from their treating doctors and that medical mistakes or clinical negligence may have led to their death.

We have acted for many families where sadly the death of their loved one could have been prevented with appropriate and timely medical intervention. Our experienced, specialist medical negligence solicitors can guide you through the process and seek the compensation you are entitled to.

Examples of fatal medical negligence claims

Cases vary but examples of fatal medical negligence claims include:

  • Delayed hospital referral – on presentation of an acute condition eg brain haemorrhage, heart attack or pulmonary embolism.
  • Delayed diagnosis – delay in diagnosing acute infection such as meningitis or sepsis. Or of cancer or any other illness that could have been treated with earlier intervention.
  • Delayed surgery – failure to provide emergency surgery or care, where there has been presentation of an acute condition.
  • Surgical negligence – mistakes on the operating table such as perforation or damage to internal organs that is difficult to repair.
  • Fatal medication errors – catastrophic drug errors caused by incorrect medication or incorrect doses being dispensed to a patient.
  • Negligence during childbirth – leading to a stillbirth or death of the mother.

Who can bring a compensation claim?

Generally, we are instructed by close family of the deceased. Often this is a surviving spouse or other next of kin, eg son, daughter, sister or brother. If there was a Will appointing an executor at the time of death the executor will instruct us and in practice this is often a close family member. A grant of probate is needed. If there is no Will, we can still act but the person representing the deceased will have to take out a grant of Letters of Administration instead.

Claiming compensation – what is a lost life worth?

Compensation for pain and suffering

The courts look at the pain and suffering experienced by the deceased before they died, which is limited in many of these cases, particularly where death has been sudden following a short illness. Consequently, this part of a claim will often have a low value. For bereaved families the award for pain and suffering does not really compensate adequately for the loss of life and loss of expectation of a life for the future, particularly for a young adult.

Bereavement damages

Bereavement damages are payable in some cases. The amount of this award is fixed by law and reviewed from time to time. There are specific categories of claimant who can recover damages. Payments are normally limited to the spouse or civil partner of the deceased. If the deceased was under 18 and unmarried, a parent may be able to make a claim.

Funeral expenses

Families can claim compensation for funeral costs and other reasonable associated expenses.

Claims for dependents 

Where someone loses a spouse or partner upon whom they were financially reliant, they are considered to be “a dependent” and there are often serious financial implications to cope with in addition to the emotional turmoil. It is possible to recover compensation for loss of dependency, including dependency on income and dependency for services eg care and assistance. Damages can never properly compensate for such a devastating loss but can help to make provision for future needs. This is particularly important for someone who has died leaving behind a young family.

Claims for trauma

The law regarding who can claim compensation for trauma following a death is complex.

In cases involving the death of a baby, generally the claim for the mother will be straightforward as she is directly involved in the negligent events, but it is not always so for a claim involving the father, as the law classes family member as a secondary victim of the events.

For the same reason, fatal cases that may give rise to a claim for family members, can be difficult to prove unless the circumstances are exceptional. Generally the family member must be present and witness the events causing the death to give rise to a claim.

Support and guidance through inquests

Following an unexpected and sudden death in hospital, it is common for the coroner to be involved and an inquest may be held to investigate the cause of death. This can be a daunting process for the family. We are able to offer help and guidance in relation to inquests and if it is believed that medical errors caused death, it is important that the inquest, which is supposed to be an investigation of the facts, explores all medical information in an open manner.

Inquests are never easy but in a medical context, it can be more complex for families who have limited means. This is because hospital trusts have access to  clinicians and independent expert witnesses who are doctors while the family will only have restricted access to clinicians to investigate their concerns and will have to approach independent experts from outside the trust.

Evidence before the inquest includes reports or statements from doctors, but if medical records are available, it is also possible for the deceased’s family to obtain expert evidence which may be useful in formulating questions to be raised at an inquest. A family can be represented at an inquest and we can either provide representation for this or arrange representation by a specialist barrister.

The claims process is an especially emotional one in cases of this nature, and we are able to provide support and guidance throughout.

Contact a medical negligence solicitor

If you’d like to seek compensation for a death caused by medical negligence call us now on 0800 316 8892 or contact us online. We offer a free consultation, with no obligation to go any further after this initial meeting. We represent clients nationwide from our offices in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, London, Manchester, Southampton and Taunton.

Your key contacts

Kerry Fifield

Partner and Clinical Negligence Team Manager

Kerry’s primary focus is the needs of the client and their family when pursuing a claim, taking into account that each client is an individual with specific requirements who needs to be supported in addition to the legal investigation.
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Marguarita Tyne

Head of Personal Injury & Medical Negligence

Marguarita Tyne is a claimant clinical negligence solicitor who investigates and brings claims on behalf of patients who have been injured during the course of their medical treatment, acting mainly (but not exclusively) for brain injury claimants in high value and often complex litigation.
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