Primum non nocere—the Latin phrase meaning ‘first do no harm’ is the first principle of medical ethics. If you feel a doctor has caused you harm by being negligent about his or her duty, you can sue that doctor for compensation and damages. Before you take legal action, you’ll need to make certain that negligence or medical malpractice has indeed been committed. You’ll need the services of a solicitor who specialises in medical law. Here are a few other considerations before you pursue a course of action that could prove costly:
Has medical malpractice occurred?
Medical malpractice or negligence is a broad term covering numerous omissions and commissions. Your doctor might have failed to diagnose the condition, aggravating your condition or delaying recovery. Improper treatment can be claimed when a doctor treats a patient in a way that no other doctor would recommend. Doctors also have the professional responsibility to warn the patients about known risks. Failure to forewarn about the risks, such as those associated with surgery, can be made the basis of a claim against a doctor.
What you’ll need to prove
In order for your lawsuit to be admissible in a court, you’ll need to prove that a doctor-patient relationship did exist. It means that you engaged the doctor and the doctor agreed to treat you. You can’t sue a doctor for a medical advice he gave at a dinner table and you happened to overhear.
For a successful lawsuit, you’ll need to convince the court that the doctor indeed committed negligence, which led to the injury. The court will consider the opinion of medical experts to determine whether the doctor should have taken an alternative course of treatment, and whether that could have produced a better outcome for the patient.
Lastly, you (and your lawyer) should show that the malpractice actually caused the injury. The injury can include physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, additional medical bills, and loss of earning or earning capacity. If no injury was caused by the negligence, you don’t have a claim.
Legal requirements for suing a doctor
Medical lawsuits are time-barred, which means that you are supposed to bring the case to court within a specified time limit after the injury occurred, usually between 6 and 18 months. The court will generally require the testimony of a medical expert.
The law holds medical organisations responsible for the actions of their employees. For all practical purposes, you should sue the individual. However, your attorney will be able to guide you better after going through the specifics of your case. You should consult an experienced medical-law attorney soon after you feel you should sue a doctor. Your lawyer will brief you about the legal requirements and documents that you need for filing a suit of damages against a doctor.
What will the process be like?
When you engage an attorney, they will generally bring the complaint to the notice of the concerned physician and organisation before filing a formal claim with the court. At times, the medical defence organisation or NHS Trust will accept negligence and the matter may be settled out of court, with your consent. If the defence organisation or NHS decides to contest your claim, it may take from one to several years before your case is decided.
Does it cost a lot of money?
No. Most law firms will agree to fight your case on a “no win, no fee” basis. You can also get Legal Aid or have the insurance cover the costs if you have a policy. In majority of the cases, the claimants don’t have to spend anything out of their pockets.
Expert author: Garry McClean writes on heath and safety matters for the safety-steps.co.uk website – a leading UK manufacturer of mobile safety steps, maintenance platforms and office kick steps.