As clinical negligence lawyers, we work closely with our clients during the investigation of their claims and, in doing so, we gain a good understanding of their individual circumstances and often get to know them well.
Once a claim settles, our clients receive their damages (financial compensation) and the litigation process is concluded for them. They get on with their lives and, hopefully, the acceptance of liability and potentially a formal apology from the defendant, along with the financial damages, provides them with the chance to achieve some closure.
Financial compensation rarely makes up for what may have been a life-changing injury or loss but damages is the only formal remedy that the law provides. Our clinical negligence team takes pride in achieving the best results possible for our clients in the hope that it does indeed allow them to get their lives back on track and offers them the level of independence, security and professional support they may need.
Probably the most complex cases that we investigate are for children who are brain-damaged at birth and whose parents are thrown into a world of caring for a severely disabled child. A damages settlement for a family in this situation, which may be into seven figures, can be life-changing as the award will fund the child’s accommodation needs such as an adapted home with room for a carer as well as professional care, therapies and equipment for life.
For others, the most important thing is the reassurance that their claim has been investigated properly, their concerns have been listened to, and lessons from mistakes made have been learned in the hope that other patients can be saved from suffering the same injury in the future.
Two members of our clinical negligence team, partner Alison Johnson and associate Victoria Johnson recently got in touch with two of their former clients to find out how the settlement of their claims had affected their lives.
Alfie* was born in a poor condition after a traumatic delivery and was diagnosed at a young age with cerebral palsy, epilepsy, partial blindness and autism. His parents approached Penningtons Manches Cooper for specialist advice after repeat brain scans showed that Alfie’s brain damage was likely to have occurred around the time of his birth.
The investigation into the potential claim was hugely complex, requiring expert evidence from experts in the fields of obstetrics, midwifery, paediatric neurology and paediatric neuroradiology. The investigation was funded by what was then known as legal aid.
As Alfie was still so young, it took many years of investigations to understand and evidence what had happened, how his brain damage had occurred, whether with better medical care Alfie’s brain damage would have been avoided, and to negotiate a liability settlement.
Once this was achieved, a tranche of further expert evidence was obtained to determine Alfie’s likely prognosis and life expectancy and what his needs would be for the rest of his lifetime. Ultimately, a settlement was agreed out of court for a lump sum of several million pounds to enable the purchase and adaptation of a safe home for Alfie, with additional annual payments throughout Alfie’s life to cover his professional care, therapies, aids and equipment needs. Alfie is now a young man in his twenties and is living with as much independence as he can.
When our team asked Alfie’s parents how they felt about the litigation process in retrospect, they said: “We understood it would be difficult and would place additional stress on our already difficult lives but we wanted above all else to fight for Alfie’s future and security.”
They added: “When the case was finally settled for an amount which would allow us or others to look after Alfie for the rest of his life, this felt almost unbelievable and, of course, we were elated. This was due to the efforts of everybody involved with his clinical negligence case.
“However, at the same time, the understanding and acknowledgment that our child was injured because a team of doctors in a hospital who we trusted broke that trust, whether through complacency, lack of knowledge or understaffing, was so overwhelming.
“To this day when we think about what happened, it still rocks us to our core and that feeling will never go away. However, the biggest relief is the knowledge that Alfie will be provided for after we are no longer here to look after him and that his brother can now live his own life without the burden of being a sibling carer.”
Sarah* was 26 years old when she underwent foot surgery in 2017 under the care of a private surgeon. Following her surgery, Sarah suffered a severe wound infection that required emergency treatment in hospital, followed by a prolonged recovery period leaving her with scarring and significant psychological injuries.
After investigating the circumstances of Sarah’s foot surgery and the causes of her infection through analysis of her medical records and obtaining independent expert evidence, we successfully brought a claim on the basis that Sarah had not been taken through the consenting process thoroughly for her surgery. Neither was she offered conservative treatment options as she should have been and was likely to have tried first.
The claim settled in 2020 after negotiations with the private surgeon’s legal representatives.
We recently followed up with Sarah to see how she was and how her situation had changed following the conclusion of her claim. Sarah gave up a high-paying career in the financial sector due to her physical and psychological injuries.
She told us that: “Through the settlement of my claim it felt good to have it recognised that what I’ve been through has cost me financially and that I had a career I was proud of.” She also said that she had put some of her compensation towards relocating to another country and paying a business coach to help her launch her own business.
Like many of our clients, however, Sarah did not feel that financial compensation was the only important aspect of pursuing a clinical negligence claim. She is hopeful that lessons have been learned that will benefit future patients and said: “I didn’t want this to happen to anyone else and getting a settlement meant that the wrong has been brought to light and acknowledged. It will hopefully mean he [the surgeon] has it in his mind to treat others with the dignity, time and care they deserve.
“The main thing for me was finally getting the recognition and apology I was after. I was not a nobody to be ignored and what I went through was real and it mattered. I mattered.”
*Names have been changed