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Very low damages for death caused by medical negligence

It’s a strange quirk of the law that compensation payable is greater for a person who survives an accident than for (the dependants of) those who do not.

The reason is quite simple but perhaps not immediately obvious: someone who dies does not (usually) have a prolonged period of suffering before death whereas an injured person may have many years of pain, indeed it may be a permanent, life-long disability.

The position is reflected similarly in the awards for the associated financial expenses that follow death or injury; the latter is likely to be significantly greater.

The headline to this blog may therefore seem shocking, if not incredible, but it is reality and will not even raise any PI solicitor’s eyebrow although (I suspect) the general public might be rather more taken aback by the apparent absurdity of this.

What about Bereavement Damages, I hear the reader ask?

Well, for deaths occurring after January 2008, there is a rather ungenerous award of £11,800.00 payable by anyone found to be legally responsible for causing a death. However, this is only payable to a surviving spouse or parent, and not to children.

Why? Do children not grieve for the wrongful death or (let’s not mince words) killing of their parent?

It seems that successive governments think they do not.

This case

In this particular case, an 86 year old woman, who was perfectly healthy for her age and certainly not suffering from any life threatening condition, went into hospital after having a fall.

She in fact had fractured her pelvis in March 2010.

This obviously needed to be re-set and she would then be on her way. There was no reason to think otherwise.

The complication, tragically, was that this poor lady was on diuretics to reduce and maintain appropriate fluid levels in her body, something which was clearly recorded in her medical history.

During the post-operative period, characterised by a sound and healthy initial response following surgery and then an unusual subsequent downturn when she ought to have been continuing to improve prior to discharge, the Hospital plied her with excessive intravenous fluids which led to her developing pulmonary oedema (an accumulation of fluid on the lungs) or a fluid overload and ultimately a heart attack.

What action was taken by us ?

We were asked to help in May 2012 and scrutinised the relevant medical materials to enable us to investigate the family’s complaint about her poor treatment.

After reading these and lengthy discussions with the client, a formal detailed letter of claim was presented to the Trust in question.

Unfortunately, it took until October 2013 before legal liability for the lady’s death was accepted on behalf of the Trust by their solicitors.

She left no surviving husband (he had predeceased her) nor parents hence no bereavement award was payable.

Instead, in accordance with the law, the family were entitled to be reimbursed for the costs of their mother’s funeral, including the ceremony, wake, headstone and associated estate expenses, and a payment for the value of her suffering as a result of the ill-treatment in hospital following the surgery until her death.

After some negotiation, a total figure of a little less than £8,000.00 was agreed, effectively allowing for about £2,000.00 for the poor lady’s suffering of several days after the surgery.

Not very much at all, most will think.

However, our experience of this claim was quite typical in that it was the acceptance of responsibility for the death of their mother that was far more important to the family than the amount of the award (indeed that was almost incidental), that along with the hope (rather than expectation) that carelessness of this sort might be avoided and not cause another unnecessary death in the future.

More Information

If you would like information or advice in relation to a similar (or, for that matter, completely different) accident that you have had, please do not hesitate to telephone or email us.

Our solicitors will be more than happy to discuss your medical situation (or accident) with you without any obligation whatsoever.