If you, or somebody close to you, have suffered a loss, an injury or the deterioration of an existing condition due to the negligence of a medical practitioner who owed you a duty of care, you may be entitled to make medical negligence claims for compensation. Claims for medical negligence compensation enable you to recover financial damages for the pain and suffering you have experienced due to a healthcare provider´s poor professional performance as well as the effect that a medical negligence injury has made to your quality of life.
However, medical negligence claims are one of the most complex areas of Irish law and, as the Injuries Board Ireland declines to assess claims for medical negligence compensation, you will need a solicitor to assist you with your claim. At a time when you may still be suffering from the consequences of a medical negligence injury, it is advisable to speak with an experienced medical negligence solicitor at the earliest opportunity in order that he or she can assess your case and advise you whether you have medical negligence claims for compensation which are worth your while to pursue.
All medical practitioners have a legal obligation to provide a high standard of care whenever they accept you as a patient. This “duty of care” starts at the front doors of a hospital, doctor´s surgery or dentist´s clinic and continues until all follow up procedures have been concluded and your treatment is complete. If, at any stage during your diagnosis, treatment or post-treatment care, a medical professional fails in his or her duty of care - and you sustain a preventable loss, an avoidable injury or the deterioration of an existing condition as a direct result - you could be entitled to claim compensation for medical negligence.
However, for medical negligence claims for compensation to be successful, it has to be shown that a competent doctor “at the time and in those circumstances” would have chosen an alternative course of action which “on the balance of probabilities” would not have resulted in a medical negligence injury being sustained. Therefore, even though you may have sustained an injury in a hospital, doctor´s surgery or dentist´s clinic which could have been avoided with greater care, it does not necessarily mean you will be eligible to make medical negligence claims for compensation.
If you solicitor considers that you have a viable claim for medical negligence compensation, he or she will compile the strongest possible medical negligence claim on your behalf and send it to the medical practitioner who is allegedly responsible for your injuries. All medical practitioners in Ireland have to have medical liability insurance before they are allowed to practise, and it is normally the case that the medical practitioner will pass your solicitor´s Letter of Claim onto his or her medical liability insurers to deal with.
When the insurance company has reviewed your claim for medical negligence compensation and conducted its own investigation into your claim, they will advise your solicitor whether their client accepts liability for your medical negligence injury. Should liability be admitted - normally within ninety days - your solicitor will calculate how much medical negligence compensation you are entitled to and negotiate with the medical practitioner´s insurance company to obtain the maximum possible settlement of your medical negligence compensation claim.
Should the insurance company dent their client´s liability for your medical negligence injury, your solicitor will issue court proceedings. The threat of court action often makes the insurance company reconsider their client´s liability or results in an offer of settlement for your medical negligence claim for compensation without admission of liability. This can happen as late as the court date or even after your solicitor has presented evidence to the court, so because your solicitor issues court proceedings in support of your claim for medical negligence compensation it does not necessarily mean that you will be required to stand up in court.
If a court appearance is necessary, your solicitor will prepare you thoroughly. You have to remember that your solicitor would not be representing you in a claim for medical negligence compensation if he or she did not believe that you had a justifiable case, and no solicitor would want to put you through a stressful experience unnecessarily when you are recovering from a medical negligence injury. You should never allow the possibility of court action dissuade you from making medical negligence claims for compensation, because litigation of medical negligence claims in court is the exception rather than the rule.
You may be approached directly by the medical practitioner´s liability insurance company with an offer of settlement for your medical negligence compensation claim soon after you medical negligence injury is discovered or while negotiations are ongoing with your solicitor. This practice is known as “third party capture” and, although not illegal, it is an unethical approach by the insurance company with the intention of offering a reduced medical negligence compensation payment in return for a quick settlement.
Although the offer may be tempting at a time when your resistance is low and you may be concerned about short-term finances, it cannot be stressed strongly enough that these approaches should be referred to your solicitor immediately. An insurance company´s approach is an admission of their client´s liability and, once liability has been acknowledged, your solicitor can apply for interim payments of medical negligence compensation to be paid to you until such time as your medical negligence claim is fully resolved. If you accept an insurance company´s offer of settlement, and your medical negligence compensation proves to be inadequate for your needs, you cannot go back to the insurance company and ask for more.
As well as engaging a solicitor as soon as possible to prevent the risk of “third party capture” it will also be beneficial to you to allow your solicitor the maximum possible amount of time to prepare your claim for medical negligence compensation. Situations can arise whereby the medical practitioner who administered the treatment which resulted in the loss, injury or deterioration of an existing condition was not the negligent party, but instead it was a laboratory technician, a hospital administrator or a theatre nurse who had provided the wrong information which led to an error in treatment. It may take a considerable period of time in these cases to establish liability for medical negligence claims.
As cases of medical negligence may not be diagnosed for many years after an injury has been sustained, the Statute of Limitations allows you two years from the date on which it is discovered that you have suffered a medical negligence injury in which to make medical negligence claims. This “date of knowledge” is the date from which the two year period starts rather than the date on which the medical negligence occurred and although it seems like a long time in which to make medical negligence claims for compensation, it should not prevent you from enquiring about your rights at the earliest opportunity.
Most medical negligence solicitors in Ireland offer a free preliminary consultation which will enable you to ask any questions you may have regarding medical negligence claims for compensation. No two claims for medical negligence are identical - even when the nature of the injury is the same - and the circumstances of your medical negligence injury and the impact it has made to your quality of life will be unique to you and to you only. Therefore, you should discuss the prospect of a claim for medical negligence compensation with a solicitor as soon as you can, and allow your solicitor to worry about the logistics of your claim, while you focus on making a recovery from your medical negligence injury.