Legal Drama Vs Reality!

Television has always been full of police dramas which inevitably involve criminal trials, but recently there has been a welcome upturn in dramas involving the legal system, most of which are enjoyed by our staff. I confess that I am of the generation that was drawn to a career in law after watching the glamorous world of “LA Law” where the lawyers of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak always won and partied as hard as they worked. I found after 11 years in practice that this is not an accurate picture of the job of a solicitor, I can’t remember the last party I was at on a “work night”!

Whilst I cannot speak for the other areas of law, I am constantly amazed by the speed with which a Clinical Negligence case on TV gets from the initial incident to trial within a matter of months. The truth is whilst this makes for good TV viewing; it is not representative of what truly occurs in the UK. Investigations into clinical negligence claims take a long time and those proceeding to trial are likely to be several years and not several months from incident. As shown in earlier articles on our website, investigations into these cases involve obtaining medical records and usually the opinion of more than one medical expert. There are many steps sometimes taking a year or more before you issue court proceedings and then usually 9-12 months of steps after that before you reach a trial. The “small screen” can never reflect these time frames for obvious reasons but we ensure that our solicitors will always advise clients on likely timescales and keep them up to date with what we are doing, how long this is likely to take and when they can next expect to hear from us.

So, do I regret that my career in law is not that of a TV Lawyer? Not a bit! The opportunity to be of assistance to someone who really has suffered as a result of a medical mistake is always rewarding. Claims against the NHS receive bad press in the UK and many clients come to us feeling apologetic for pursuing the claim. However, compensation is never awarded without good cause and without proving that the treatment was below that of a reasonably competent medical professional. Compensation is sometimes viewed by those who have not suffered clinical negligence as a cash windfall, but in practice the suffering of the patient after a mistake is often long lasting, sometimes permanent. In these cases a complete adjustment to their lives, careers, families and homes has to be put in place and professional care may be required for life.

The truth is compensation awards in this country are not high, as they may appear on TV, the loss of one eye for example attracts only between £44,000-£53,000 in damages. The rest of the compensation that person may receive is made of financial expenses that have had and will incur so that they can function as they did pre-incident. For example, a child suffering brain damage at birth may be awarded millions, but that does not make them a millionaire. Their lives are completely altered from what they would have been as are their family’s lives. Almost every penny of their “millions” is accounted for to ensure they have the professional care, medical treatment, specialist accommodation and equipment they need for the rest of their life, but even then they will never  live the life they would have had if the mistake had not occurred.

Clinical negligence lawyers, like myself and my colleagues, actually have overwhelming respect and admiration for the work of the doctors and nurses of the NHS and the unenviable decisions they must make on a daily basis. Clinical negligence is simply a medical mistake but unlike the mistakes most of us make, the consequences of medical mistakes are far reaching, sometimes fatal. Should people who suffer as a result simply put up with this or is it fair that they or their families are compensated to return them to how they were pre-incident or to achieve a better quality of life. It is a shame that this is not everybody’s perception of clinical negligence compensation, as I find it an area of law that is professionally fulfilling.

Joanne Dennison