Patient safety charity, Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA) has expressed concerns over Government plans to introduce fixed costs for clinical negligence claims. Under the new proposals, the legal costs would be capped for any case under the value of £25,000. This cap is estimated to apply to 8 out of 10 claims.
One area likely to be severely affected by the cap is stillbirths and neonatal deaths. Britain is currently ranked 33rd out of 35 in the developed world for its stillbirth rates. Other types of claims at risk include mental health cases and cases concerning the death of an elderly person. This would include those affected by the Mid Staffordshire scandal where the average settlement for these cases, which mainly involved elderly patients, was £9,000.
Suzanne Munroe, Director and Head of Clinical Negligence, said: “By imposing capped costs, our ability to investigate cases such as stillbirths would be limited. We sadly know from experience that this would deprive bereaved parents from justice at a time when they are most vulnerable.”
The Clinical Negligence team at Switalskis Solicitors are still dealing with many cases of stillbirth. One member of the team is currently acting for the parents of a stillborn baby following a failure to manage the mum’s pregnancy effectively. This case has resulted in both mum and dad being badly affected and mum is currently undergoing treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Suzanne Munroe said: “We are working with people at what must be one of the worst times of their lives and when they need the most support and understanding. One of the real risks identified by AvMa is that because the defendants will know that we will have capped fees and a limited ability to investigate what happened, they will deny the existence of problems and defend their actions when they really should be accepting that their mistakes have caused the situation and move towards settling these cases. This prolongs the experience for all the parties involved and can make a terribly difficult and distressing time even worse for the parents.”
One of the other recognised risks of fixed costs is that highly experienced lawyers will no longer take on low value cases. This would mean that parents would have to opt for either less experienced lawyers who are willing to accept lower costs or find themselves without any legal representation at all.
AvMA are continuing to campaign against fixed costs.