Penningtons Manches LLP has recently settled a claim on behalf of an elderly woman who fell down the stairs at her home, suffering two fractured vertebrae in her neck, four fractured ribs, a head injury and bleeding into her lungs.
Her family called 999 and explained what had happened. The fact that she had fallen downstairs meant that she was at high risk of having sustained serious fractures and a possible head injury, so extreme caution should have been taken before she was moved to avoid risking permanent injury or even death from damage to her spinal cord or brain.
Despite this, the 999 call handler told the family to sit her up. When paramedics later arrived on the scene, instead of very carefully assessing the injuries sustained and minimising movements to immobilise the woman before transferring her to hospital, they lifted her onto her feet and walked her to the ambulance. She was then taken to the local hospital, rather than to a major trauma centre as should have occurred.
Her poor care was compounded because the local hospital was ill-experienced to diagnose and manage injuries of this type. As a result she lost consciousness, as well as some respiratory function and suffered very significant pain.
Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team investigated the claim and identified potential breaches of duty by the 999 call handler, the ambulance service and her local hospital while managing the woman’s care.
Expert evidence was obtained to address the damage she had sustained as a result of the poor handling of her care, over and above the effects of the original fall. This transpired to be relatively limited, with increased pain but no long-term damage.
The defendants in this case were each represented by the NHS Litigation Authority, which agreed to settle the woman’s claim at an early stage.
Commenting on the outcome, Lucie Prothero of Penningtons Manches' clinical negligence team notes: "There were a number of investigations involving different aspects of this lady's care, which gave rise to experts' fees that we had to incur in order to establish the extent of her claim and the avoidable damage that the negligence caused her. The case was of relatively limited value because our client had thankfully sustained no long-term damage.
"The Government is currently considering the introduction of a 'fixed fee' regime in clinical negligence cases, where the legal costs are fixed according to the value of the claim. This case is a good example that the investigations and work needed to resolve cases like this depend on the facts, not the value of any claim. It was possible to settle this particular case with the NHS Litigation Authority at an early stage, which depended on its proper and sensible conduct. Such cases are, however, likely to be very difficult to run when several defendants are involved and several different aspects of care are open to question, even though the client may well have had negligent care and suffered as a result."