Death caused by medical negligence Image - stethoscope

Death caused by medical negligence

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.

Types of medical negligence death claims

These cases vary but may include:

  • Delay in referring to hospital on presentation of an acute condition eg brain haemorrhage, heart attack or pulmonary embolism.
  • Delay in diagnosing acute infection eg meningitis or sepsis.
  • Failure to provide emergency surgery or care, again in cases where there has been acute presentation.
  • Mistakes on the operating table eg perforation, damage to internal organs that is difficult to repair.
  • Catastrophic drug errors.
  • Stillbirth or maternal death.
  • Death following delayed diagnosis eg of cancer or other illness that could have been treated with earlier intervention.

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 letter of administration instead.

What is a lost life worth?

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.

However, the claim may extend to other elements if the Deceased left behind dependents (see section below).

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.

Funeral expenses are also generally recoverable.

Financial losses – dependency

Where someone loses a spouse or partner upon whom they were financially reliant, there are often serious financial implications to cope with in addition to the emotional turmoil. It is possible to recover damages for loss of dependency including dependency on income as well as 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.

What about trauma?

The law regarding who can claim compensation for trauma following a death is complex. Fatal cases can in some circumstances give rise to a claim for family members but these can be difficult to prove unless the circumstances are exceptional as family members are classed as secondary victims of the original negligence. 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 him as a secondary victim of the events.

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 as hospital trusts have access both to clinicians and independent expert witnesses who are doctors while families who have limited means will have restricted access to clinicians to support their concerns and will have to approach independent experts from outside the trust.

Evidence before the inquest includes reports or statements from doctors but it is possible if medical records are available 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 death due to medical negligence call us now on 0800 316 8892 or contact us online.