Damage caused by the doctor’s negligence
In a recent article, I deliberately focused on the cause rather than the blame as it is the former that causes the most confusion for clients. Just to recap I stated that, whatever the doctor may have done wrong, there will be no claim unless it can be proved that some injury or damage has been caused. For this article, I have looked at a few cases that have recently been before the court that demonstrate some of the different approaches the court will take in deciding what, if any, injury or damage has been caused.
MANA v CENTRAL MANCHESTER NHS TRUST
This is an interesting example of the court exercising its wide discretion when considering what damage has been caused and consequently what can be compensated. This was a serious case involving cerebral palsy caused by mismanagement during the birth of the claimant. It was agreed that the hospital staff had been negligent. The claimant was severely disabled and needed a great deal of care. The claimant`s home needed to be adapted to make it suitable for a disabled person`s needs. The cost of special housing needs can usually be claimed for in such cases. In this case, the claimant`s parents were divorced. It was accepted that the claimant needed to divide his time staying for periods with either parent. In those circumstances, it followed that both parents needed to have a specially adapted home to care for their son. The court agreed that, on the special facts of this case, it was reasonable for the claim to include the cost of two specially adapted homes. The Judge deciding the case did emphasise that she was not creating a precedent and future cases would be decided on their own merits.
MULLER v KINGS COLLEGE NHS TRUST
This case is an interesting example of how even a serious breach may only result in modest damages. Mr Muller had a blemish of some kind on the sole of a foot. It was incorrectly diagnosed as an ulcer, probably the result of a minor injury. In fact, it was a form of skin cancer. Unfortunately, by the time a proper diagnosis had been made the cancer had spread. Treatment followed and Mr Manna was eventually declared cancer free. Whilst there was a serious breach by the hospital the claimant had survived and his life expectancy had in no way been attenuated. He was, however, awarded £16,500 for having had to undergo some quite invasive treatment that could have been mitigated if an earlier diagnosis had been made.
DARNLEY v CROYON NHS TRUST
This is a rather novel case and I do find myself wondering how it ever got as far as a trial and beyond. Possibly the fact that the injury was serious was the motivation. Mr Darnley was assaulted and suffered a head injury. He presented at A and E and his details were taken down by a receptionist, someone with no medical qualifications. The receptionist passed the information to the nursing staff, in accordance with the laid down procedure, and told the claimant he might have wait several hours before being seen. That was incorrect; the target waiting time for head injuries was 15 minutes (on a busy shift it could take 30 minutes). Mr Darnley waited for about 19 minutes, got fed up and left without informing any of the hospital staff. Later at home he developed a serious brain condition. There was some technical legal argument concerning the duty of the receptionist which I do not need to go into here. Suffice to say that the trial Judge and the Court of Appeal held that the receptionist was not under a duty to provide information. Anything said to a patient about waiting times was a mere courtesy. What is worth noting here, however, is that even if the receptionist had been guilty of making what lawyers call a negligent misstatement that would not have been the cause of the claimant`s injury or his subsequent deterioration. He took it upon himself to leave the hospital without discussing his intention or informing anyone. Had he waited another 10 minutes he would have been seen by the triage nurse. The moral to this story is if you have to attend A & E, be patient and be polite. The hospital staff do their best in very difficult circumstances.