I’ve got no experience of dealing with lawyers – except for buying my flat and dealing with my dad’s will. What will happen in my case?
The first step is usually a meeting. In most cases we don’t charge of the initial meeting.
The process that most cases follow is of :
- taking a statement
- getting the medical records
- investigation of the case by independent expert report(s)
- issuing proceedings in court and the exchange of written summaries of each party's position
- exchange of witness statements between the parties
- exchange of expert reports and then awaiting and preparing for trial and the trial itself.
First we have to investigate whether you have a case which is likely to succeed and which is worth running in terms of the likely compensation versus the likely costs. Above all you should consider what you want to achieve by an action. Experience teaches that only people who take action to recover financial loss are really satisfied by litigation. If you go to all this trouble for other reasons; to make sure the people who injured you are held responsible, for example, or to prevent this happening to someone else, you may be disappointed.
For your claim to succeed, you have to show that your treatment was below minimum competence standards (a tough test) and that the substandard treatment (not, for example, the natural progress of the disease for which you were being treated) caused your injuries. To find out if your treatment was substandard, we have to get a report from an independent doctor - as we are not doctors we cannot tell you this. No doctor will report unless they have seen all the medical records of your treatment.
So first of all we have to get details from you, get hold of your records and get advice from one or more independent doctors. In over half of the cases we take on, we find on investigation that there isn't a reasonable chance of success and the case has to be abandoned. This will sometimes be because an accident happened which we cannot show was anyone's fault, but more often because we cannot show that the negligence caused the injury or damage you suffered. Most (over 90%) of the cases that we proceed with, after investigation, result in a damages payment.
How long will it take?
The initial investigation can take longer than the actual legal proceedings. How long the investigation takes depends on a number of factors, some of the commonest of which are the attitude of the health authority and its solicitors, the volume and complexity of your case notes, the number of medical specialities involved and the supply of doctors practising in them whom we regard as reliable experts.
Investigating a complicated case - or one in which we have to wait a long time for a series of busy experts to report - can take two years or more particularly when we have to instruct experts in a logical stepwise manner.
When we are clear you have a good case, we have to send a detailed letter to the doctor or hospital, setting out the basis of your claim. They have three months to respond. If their response is a denial, then we have to issue proceedings. Most cases get to trial within 12-15 months of issue – some sooner, some later.
Will I have to go to court?
Few cases actually get as far as trial. Most cases in which our medical experts advise that the injury was caused by negligence are settled by the defendants paying damages. They may not be prepared to admit negligence when they do so. This may happen at any stage. Many settlements take place in the week, the day before or even the day of the trial. Where the client is a child (or an adult who is not capable of managing his or her own affairs) any damages settlement has to be approved by the court at a short hearing.