Clinical negligence claims rarely go to trial for a judge to determine the outcome. The benefit of the length of these claims is that there is plenty of opportunity for the claim to settle and over the 28 years Armstrong Foulkes has specialised in clinical negligence claims, we have only had a handful of trials. 2020 has been an extraordinary year for a variety of reasons including the unprecedented number of trials we have had – 3; the latest being a claim for M arising out of the care she received from the local ambulance service in 2016.
M was at home alone when she suffered a subarachnoid haemorrhage from a ruptured aneurysm. She was in excruciating pain, vomiting and in and out of consciousness. Despite this, she had the presence of mind and strength to crawl downstairs to unlock her front door and get her mobile phone to call 999. The ambulance service told her they would send an ambulance. Unfortunately, after the call, her phone battery ran out and as she was collapsed in the hallway of her home, she was unable to get to her landline telephone which was in another room.
The ambulance failed to arrive. M, feeling like she was being left to die, managed to crawl to her front door and open it, despite her condition deteriorating as each minute passed. Approximately an hour after she had called for an ambulance, she managed to attract the attention of her neighbour who called 999 to chase for an ambulance. The ambulance service confirmed an ambulance would be sent. A further half an hour passed and the neighbour called 999 again. Again the ambulance service confirmed an ambulance would be on its way. Shortly afterwards, M’s mother and son arrived at the house and a fourth call was made to 999. Finally an ambulance arrived, nearly 2 hours after M first called 999, and M was taken to hospital for emergency surgery.
Fortunately, following her surgery, M made a very good recovery from the haemorrhage. However, she developed severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the ordeal as she felt the ambulance service had left her to die.
The ambulance service admitted very early on that there was a substandard delay in the ambulance arriving to take M to hospital. However, they disputed this caused any injury to her. It was the evidence of our expert psychiatrist that the incident as a whole caused M’s PTSD and it is beyond the limits of medical science to establish whether or not she would have suffered PTSD in any event even if the ambulance had arrived on time. Therefore, as the delay in the ambulance arriving made a material contribution to her PTSD, we could claim for the entirety of her injury. The Defendant’s expert psychiatrist disagreed with this. He was of the view the events of that day were so traumatic, M would have likely suffered PTSD even if the ambulance had arrived earlier.
The Claimant made repeated attempts to settle the claim before trial but the Defendant was unwilling to engage in negotiations. The claim was therefore listed for a 2 day trial in the High Court in October. The judge found in favour of the Claimant and agreed with our expert who he described as “a thoughtful, balanced, and careful expert witness who was doing his best to provide the court with his genuinely held opinion.”
On the other hand, the Judge was not convinced by the evidence of the Defendant’s expert. Whilst experts are instructed by a party to the claim, ultimately their duty is to the Court and their evidence should be objective and impartial i.e. it should be the same regardless of whether they are instructed by the Claimant or the Defendant. Unfortunately, this could not be said of the Defendant’s expert. The Judge was of the view “there was a lack of objectivity” and that “there was an attempt, certainly at times, to present an assessment which was less than favourable to the Claimant”.
This case highlights why it is paramount claims such as these are handled by solicitors who specialise in clinical negligence. Firstly, although many claims settle well before trial, some do not and it is important to instruct a solicitor who has experience pursuing claims through to trial. Secondly, as demonstrated by this case, these cases stand or fall on expert evidence. We spend a great deal of time and effort locating the best experts in each specialty and scrutinising their evidence throughout so we get the best results for our clients.
If you would like to discuss a potential claim with one of specialist clinical negligence solicitors for some free, no obligation advice, please contact us on 01642 231110.
Kathryn Watson – December 2020