How long does a medical negligence claim take?

Medical negligence refers to mistakes made in the course of a medical procedure, diagnosis or hospital treatment by a member of the healthcare profession. It is often a mistake or an accident arising from a lack of judgement or the incompetence of the healthcare professional involved. Misdiagnosis of medical conditions, surgical errors, anaesthetic injuries, birth injury to mother and baby, prescription errors are just a few examples of medical negligence.

These are sensitive issues which demand careful handling and deep understanding by those involved in resolving the cases. Medical negligence claims are often difficult to prove and successful compensation claims arising from medical negligence require the expertise of experienced professionals.

The timescales required to complete medical negligence claims vary from case to case, as the type of work required will be different in each case. Some can be resolved very quickly but others may take much longer to resolve because of the intricacies involved. Timescales are also influenced by funding and the requirement for inputs from medical experts.

A number of methods are used in funding the process. Legal aid and pre-existing insurance policies are commonly utilised, but some professionals handling these claims may agree to work on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis if the possibility of obtaining funding through legal aid or insurers has been investigated without success. The process of exploring these possibilities can be lengthy and time consuming and this definitely adds on to the timescales required to complete the process.

Medical records constitute a key component of the claim and the process of obtaining them from healthcare providers may be slowed down by the requirement to comply with the Data Protection Act. The chronology of events will determine the appropriate expert witnesses to be contacted for advice.

Experts in some of the medical disciplines may require much longer time to prepare their reports, and if more than one expert is required, it could take a little longer to assemble all the reports that are relevant to the case. If the analyses of expert reports confirm that a successful claim can be made, the defendant will be presented with a written letter which sets out the allegations.

The defendant may take several months to respond to the allegations as the law allows the defendant a few months to consider the allegations and respond to them. If liability is accepted, the claim may be negotiated and agreed upon by all the parties concerned within a reasonable period of time. If however the defendant rebuts the allegations, court proceedings will ensue. This is often a lengthy process, as the courts must undertake their own procedural steps to conclude the case.

Claimants and others working with them must have an open mind and also recognise that it may take some time to completely conclude a medical negligence claim as there are variables involved which they may not necessarily have control over.

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