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Guide to Medical Negligence*

Medical negligence has a legal definition – when a medical practitioner makes an avoidable error in the diagnosis or treatment of a patients´ illness which leads to the patient suffering. The medical practitioner could be a doctor, nurse, dentist, or anybody who is registered with the Medical Council of Ireland for the purpose of practising medicine. Practitioners registered with the Medical Council of Ireland have a “duty of care” to any patient they have undertaken to treat.

Medical negligence claims do not have to be surgical. They can arise when a medical practitioner:

  • takes insufficient care to diagnose your symptoms correctly
  • delays or makes an error in treatment once your symptoms have been diagnosed
  • fails to provide any appropriate treatment at all

Claims can also result from a failure to communicate important issues to a colleague, the patient or their families and from poor professional performance – either a lack of ability, or the failure to apply it.

What Constitutes a Medical Negligence Claim?

There are many areas of healthcare from which medical negligence claims can originate. An error during a surgical operation is the most obvious one, but medical negligence claims can follow malpractice in any of the following circumstances, plus a host of others:-

  • Obstetric or gynaecological injury during childbirth
  • Contaminated blood transfusions
  • Dentistry malpractice
  • Cancer misdiagnosis
  • Chiropractic injury
  • Cosmetic surgery

Medical negligence claims are far more complex than a personal injury claim for compensation and may have a number of contributory factors – such as when a nurse administers the wrong treatment because the patient´s notes are incorrect or missing. Medical negligence claims for compensation have to show that there was a breach in the “duty of care”, and that this breach led to an injury – either physical or psychological – which could have been avoided.

If you believe that you, or a family member, is a victim of any form of medical negligence you can call our legal claims helpline to talk with one of our experienced medical negligence solicitors for an assessment of your potential case. Our service operates 7 days a week and twenty-four hours a day If now is not a good time for you to talk you can simply fill in our contact form and we will call you back.

Who Gets Sued in Medical Negligence Claims?

Although your doctor or other medical practitioner may be responsible for the medical negligence you have suffered, they are not sued directly. Action is always taken against their employer – the practice, hospital or health authority for whom they work. Every medical practitioner in Ireland must, by law, have comprehensive professional indemnity insurance to cover medical negligence claims, and if the claim is determined in your favour it will be the insurance company, and not your doctor, who is responsible for payment of a compensation award.

Most medical negligence claims are filed against the Health & Safety Executive via the State Claims Agency – the exception being Hepatitis C infection, for which a claim for medical negligence is directed against the Minister for Health.

Who Deals With Medical Negligence Claims?

Medical negligence claims are processed through the court system, with litigation usually being determined by the High Court of Ireland. To go ahead with a claim for medical negligence you will need the services of a specialist medical negligence solicitor.

When considering medical negligence claims, the court will ask a consultant physician if they would have acted in the same way as the defendant medical practitioner, and if they would consider that the medical practitioner´s actions were reasonable in the circumstances. Because there may be more than one way to perform a procedure, it has to be proven that “on the balance of probability” the treatment given, (or lack of it) directly led or contributed to an injury being sustained.

What is a Medical Negligence Claim Worth?

Medical negligence claims cover everything from a minor complaint – such as a dentist pulling a healthy tooth which led to extended pain and unnecessary expense – to far more serious issues where the long term health of a patient has been compromised or the breach of care by a medical practitioner has resulted in a fatality. Each case is unique and compensation awards vary accordingly. Awards for medical negligence claims are based on the physical and psychological trauma a patient may have suffered, together with compensation for any out-of-pocket expenses that are directly associated with the injuries sustained due to medical negligence.

If the patient has contributed to the injury through their own negligence – maybe not completing a prescribed course of treatment or not attending pre-arranged appointments – it will be taken into consideration when compensation for a medical negligence claim is decided. Your previous medical records are also examined to see if you have a history of a similar injury and if the medical negligence was the primary cause of your injury or it aggravated an existing condition.

How do I Make a Medical Negligence Claim?

Victims of medical negligence have two years from the “date of knowledge” in which to make a medical negligence claim. This date of knowledge can be the date on which an illness is correctly diagnosed following a previous misdiagnosis, a healthy tooth was pulled or a disease which had been present for some time, maybe even decades, but not diagnosed at all, finally comes to light. Despite this two year gateway it is recommended that, as soon as you believe you are a victim of medical negligence, you contact a specialist medical claims solicitor to seek professional legal advice.

Some patients are reluctant to pursue a claim for medical negligence against a family doctor, and victims of medical negligence can leave it too long before contacting a solicitor – not allowing the solicitor enough time to access medical records and prepare a thorough medical negligence claim.

If you believe that you may be the victim of medical negligence by a medical professional don’t waste time – get in touch with us by calling our legal claims helpline. Our legal advice service is open twenty-four hours, every day.  If now is not a convenient time, or outside our open hours, simply fill in our contact form and we will call you back.