An Introduction to Medical Negligence Law

Medical negligence describes substandard or unacceptably poor medical treatment of a patient, who has been harmed as a result of this treatment. Substandard treatment may come from anyone in the medical profession and is not limited solely to doctors, nurses or surgeons. If a case of medical negligence can be proven, the patient in question is able to claim in a court of law. However, many claims of medical negligence are, in actual fact, not negligence on part of the medical professional and hence are discredited. Popular medical negligence claims include having instruments left inside the patient following surgery, misreading medical and drug charts causing strong adverse reactions or being misdiagnosed.

Proving Negligence

For a medical negligence claim to be successful particular requirements must be established. A breach of duty towards the patient must be proven and an injury as a result of this poor treatment must have occurred. The law requires expert evidence to support any claims for both the negligence caused and the subsequent injuries suffered. Often, proving the link between the negligence and the injuries can be the hardest part in any claim, hence why expert evidence is required. This not only supports the medical staff that may not have been negligent, but also supports the patient, regardless of the outcome, through a difficult process.

The ‘Bolam test’

Though some mistakes are clearly unacceptable and show definite negligence, other instances can be uncertain. Therefore, the law requires a Bolam test be carried out (so named following Bolam v Friern Hospital). This states if the medical practitioner can prove others in the same speciality would have acted in the same way, he or she is in a strong position to deny negligence. This is true regardless of how poor their conduct may seem to outside their profession. There does have to be logical basis for what was carried out, however.

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Expert Evidence

A court hearing will then decide if there has been negligence. Paramount to any medical negligence claim, law officials will hear from medical experts. They will discuss the supposed negligence and determine whether the course of action had not only been the best taken, but also the most logical of options. If it can be proven, the law decrees no medical negligence. However, if the experts disagree, and are able to prove another option would have been better, or had a stronger basis in logic, it is likely the law will present a verdict of clear medical negligence.

The Time Limit

Medical negligence law is very complex and often proving a case of medical negligence can be difficult. The amount of medical evidence needed can be difficult to obtain and there is a time limit in which the law will accept a claim of medical negligence. A legal claim must be made within three years of the injury being discovered. After this time, though a judge may override this period, it is very rare any legal action will be taken. Therefore, it is important in any medical negligence claim to seek advice from a legal professional immediately.

Thanks to medical negligence lawyer Helen Sandhurst for writing this guest post.

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