Sadly, when healthcare professionals get it wrong, this can result in the death of a patient. While no amount of compensation can make up for the loss of loved one, bringing a death by medical negligence claim can help establish what went wrong, and provide financial support to the deceased’s family. It can also give some closure , This can family of the deceased can get closure and may even help to prevent the same thing from happening to someone else.
The following guide to death by medical negligence payouts in the UK explains who can bring a claim and how much compensation the family of the deceased could be entitled to.
What is classed as death by medical negligence?
Death by medical negligence claims, sometimes referred to as clinical negligence or fatal medical malpractice claims, are fortunately not that common, but they do happen. These types of claims refer to any case where a patient has died as the result of a negligent act or omission on the part of their GP or treating physician, or any other medical or nursing professional, regardless of whether they work for the NHS or a private healthcare provider.
The most common examples of death by medical negligence payouts UK are for:
- deaths caused by misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of an illness or condition that could have been treated with early medical intervention, including a late cancer diagnosis
- delay in referring a patient to hospital for further treatment when they present with an acute condition or injury, for example, meningitis, a heart attack or internal trauma
- delay in providing a patient with emergency surgery or care when they have presented at hospital with symptoms of a potentially life-threatening condition
- fatal errors during a surgical procedure, such as damage to internal organs or an infection arising as a result of poor care or leaving surgical equipment inside a patient’s body
- fatal anaesthesia errors, where an anaesthetic has been incorrectly administered prior to surgery or during any other medical procedure
- errors with a blood transfusion, such as being given the wrong blood type or where the blood was contaminated with a life-threatening virus, such as HIV or hepatitis
- the provision of a particular course of treatment or surgical procedure where the patient was not fully advised of all the risks involved before this was administered or undertaken
- fatal prescription errors, such as where someone is prescribed the wrong dose or the wrong medication, for example, where a patient is allergic to penicillin
- fatal errors in administering the right type or correct dose of medication when someone is incapacitated in hospital or at home
- stillbirths or maternal deaths due to avoidable complications during a birth
- fatalities arising out of inadequate nursing care, such as a failure to prevent or manage pressure sores, leading to life-threatening complications such as sepsis or osteomyelitis
- insufficient supervision and care of a mental health patient at risk of suicide.
Cases of medical negligence are not limited to the elderly or infirm, but can happen to anyone of any age. In some cases, these types of wrongful deaths are not always linked to a pre-existing medical condition, but can come about purely as a result of an unacceptable error on the part of a medical professional who has unfortunately got it very wrong.
Who can claim for a death by medical negligence payout?
When a loved one dies, it is understandable to look for someone to blame, especially if a death is wholly unexpected and, with the benefit of hindsight, this tragic outcome could have been avoided. However, medical negligence claims can be difficult to prove, where there are key legal requirements that must be met to be eligible to claim compensation.
To receive compensation for death by medical negligence, it will be necessary to show both a ‘breach of duty of care’ and ‘causation’. As such, it must be possible to prove that the medical treatment received fell below a minimum standard of competence ‘and’ that it is more likely than not that the condition which caused the death of the patient could have been avoided, or the patient’s life expectancy increased, with proper treatment and care.
Proving breach of duty can be tricky, where the test of whether a healthcare professional has breached the duty of care owed to a patient is if they have failed to meet the standard of a reasonable body of other practitioners also skilled in that field. This will require reference to expert medical opinion. Similarly, being able to show that some wrongdoing on the part of a healthcare professional actually caused a patient’s death can be even trickier, especially where death was potentially inevitable, even with proper care and treatment.
In addition to expert medical evidence, there will often need to be a detailed account of the patient’s medical history and general state of health prior to the wrongdoing, supported by clear and credible witness evidence from family members and friends. In some cases, unless someone can testify as to what was discussed and advised by the healthcare professionals during any appointments and consultations, or when treatment was administered or care given, it can be difficult to disprove what the doctors or nurses are saying in their defence.
However, these types of cases still can and often do succeed. By seeking specialist legal representation from a solicitor with experience in dealing with wrongful death claims, a strong case can be built against those arguably responsible for the death of a loved one. Further, once disclosure has been secured of the deceased’s GP and hospital records, and expert medical evidence obtained to demonstrate some wrongdoing on the part of the healthcare professionals in question, these types of cases will often settle. This means that it may be possible to get a death by medical negligence payout without having to go to court.
Average death by medical negligence payouts in the UK
When it comes to death by medical negligence payouts, the amount of compensation can vary dramatically from case to case, where no two sets of circumstances will be the same. However, a claim for compensation for the death of a loved one will usually be made up of several different heads of loss, reflecting not only the pain and suffering of the person who has died, but the financial impact that their loss has had on their family, including:
- General damages: this is a sum of money to reflect any pain, suffering and loss of amenity experienced by a loved one before they died as a result of any medical negligence
- Care claim: the cost of any care, or compensation to reflect care given during any period of incapacity before a loved one died, even if provided for free by a family member
- Loss of earnings: any financial losses arising out of the fact that the patient was unable to work as result of their medical condition, up until the date of death
Travel expenses: any expenses incurred on travel, for example, to and from appointments
- Medical expenses: any medical expenses unnecessarily incurred
- Funeral expenses: any costs associated with the deceased’s funeral
- Statutory bereavement damages: this is a fixed sum of £15,120 payable to a spouse, civil partner, a cohabiting partner of more than 2 years or the parents of an unmarried minor
- Loss of financial dependency: this covers claims for future loss of income, and for future loss of services, by those who were dependent on the deceased before they died, where the categories of those eligible to benefit are much wider than for a bereavement award
- Loss of consortium: this is to reflect the loss of love and affection of a family member.
When it comes to general damages, even after someone has died, the right to pursue compensation for their injuries and death continues under the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934. This part of the claim is brought on behalf of the deceased’s estate to secure compensation for the pain, suffering and loss of amenity caused by the wrongdoing to the date of death. In fatal injury cases, the length of suffering and understanding by the deceased of their impending death will be key in determining the level of compensation.
In addition to an award to compensate the deceased, or rather their estate, for what that person experienced leading up to their death, there is also a right to claim for the financial losses they suffered as a result of their negligent treatment. These are known as special damages and can include any past loss of income, plus any costs incurred in consequence of the medical negligence, such as the costs of care, or travel and medical expenses.
Finally, any claims for general and special damages are in addition to those specific claims that can be brought by the relatives and dependants of the deceased in their own right under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. Dependency claims for loss of income and loss of services can often represent the largest heads of loss, reflecting the loss to those who otherwise would have relied on the deceased’s income, or provision of gratuitous services, for example, household chores, childcare, DIY and gardening. The beneficiaries of the deceased’s estate are often also dependants, but this is not always the case, although claims under both the 1934 and 1976 Acts are often joined in the same action.
With all these factors to take into account, it would be impossible to provide an average amount for death by medical negligence payouts UK, where every wrongful death compensation claim is different. However, in many of these cases, the compensation received can make a significant difference to the quality of the lives of those left behind.
How to make a death by medical negligence claim
To pursue a death by medical negligence payout, it is important to instruct a solicitor specialising in personal injury and with experience of dealing with wrongful death claims. The solicitor will be able to help those seeking to bring a claim to build their case against either the NHS or private healthcare provider allegedly responsible for the fatality in question. A claim could be pursued by either the executors of the deceased’s will, or the administrators, where the deceased died intestate, or by the beneficiaries of any will or those entitled to benefit from the deceased’s estate under the rules of intestacy. Certain claims can also be pursued directly by certain family members or eligible dependants.
In all cases, however, it is important to secure specialist legal advice as soon as possible. This is because compensation claims for personal injury, including death by medical negligence claims, are subject to a limitation period of 3 years. This is the case for claims against either a private healthcare provider or the NHS. This essentially means that court proceedings, if the matter cannot be settled beforehand, must be issued either within 3 years of the wrongdoing taking place, or 3 years of becoming aware that the negligence of a healthcare professional either caused or contributed to the death of a loved one.
There are some exceptions to this time limit, for example, if the patient who died was under 18, but it is still always best to pursue the matter as quickly as possible, not least to ensure that any compensation can be put to good use and the family can start to move on.
How long do death by medical negligence payouts UK take?
The length of time to process death by medical negligence payouts UK will depend on the facts involved. In many cases, where there is sufficient evidence of some wrongdoing on the part of a healthcare professional, the litigation risks can often result in early settlement.
The insurers for private healthcare providers, or NHS Resolution, the litigation authority that deals with these type of disputes on behalf of the NHS, will often take a pragmatic view about the cost-effectiveness of litigating these types of complex cases. If liability is admitted at an early stage, it is not uncommon for claimants to receive several early offers to avoid the matter going to court, where even an assessment of damages before a judge can take months to reach a final hearing and result in significant legal costs. Depending on the risks involved, a sensible offer may even be made where liability remains in dispute.
However, the process of building a case against either the NHS or a private healthcare provider can often, of itself, take several months or years. These types of cases require patience and perseverance, although with the right legal advice and representation, it can be possible to get a death by medial negligence payout UK within just a few short months.
Death by medical negligence payouts FAQs
What happens if someone dies due to medical negligence?
If someone dies due to some wrongdoing on the part of a healthcare professional, for example, as a result of a delayed diagnosis of cancer, it may be possible to claim a death by medical negligence payout for their family.
How is death compensation calculated?
Compensation for wrongful death can comprise a number of different elements, from a sum of money to reflect any pain and suffering before the person died, to an award for loss of financial dependency for certain family members.
How is compensation for medical negligence calculated?
Compensation for medical negligence can vary dramatically from case to case, where much will depend on the nature and severity of any injuries sustained, or whether or not any negligence resulted in the death of a patient.
How much does the NHS pay in negligence claims?
It is possible to sue any healthcare provider for medical negligence, including the NHS and private hospitals or professionals, where the amount of any payout will depend on the circumstances, including how severely someone was injured as result.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.