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Settlement for young dad’s family highlights need for legal representation at inquests

An NHS trust’s admission of liability for a young dad’s death after a coroner had spared a hospital of any blame has highlighted the need for families to be represented at inquests.

Posted on 02 August 2021

At the inquest into the death of the father of two who we have called Daniel, Barts Health NHS Trust had a full legal team to make its case about Daniel’s treatment for epiglottitis.

However, Daniel’s family had no legal representation at the inquest at the London Inner South Coroner’s Court earlier this year. When the coroner delivered his narrative verdict he said Daniel had been treated appropriately when he suffered epiglottitis and his sudden deterioration after attending Whipps Cross Hospital A&E department was likely to have been the result of an allergic reaction leading to multi-organ failure.

Following the inquest the case was taken up by Leigh Day head of clinical negligence Suzanne White on a no-win no-fee basis. After Suzanne and her team argued the family’s case, the health trust admitted liability, took responsibility for Daniel’s death, apologised and paid a six-figure sum in compensation.

Daniel was described as fit and healthy, when one night he woke up with symptoms of a sore throat and had difficulty swallowing. His symptoms gradually worsened and within hours were so concerning that he decided to attend A&E at Whipps Cross Hospital.

Despite the fact that Daniel was struggling to swallow his own saliva and was in a considerable amount of pain, there was a delay in diagnosing and treating his epiglottitis. As a result, there was a rapid deterioration in Daniel’s condition and he developed pulmonary oedema. This in turn led to him sustaining a cardiac arrest from which medical staff were unable to resuscitate him.

Suzanne argued that the hospital failed to recognise the severity of Daniel’s condition and failed to ensure the safety of the airway by timely elective intubation and ventilation. She said if Daniel had been treated quickly and appropriately when he attended hospital, he would not have suffered catastrophic airway compromise and his death could and should have been prevented.

Barts Health NHS Trust agreed the compensation at a meeting of legal representatives.

Suzanne White said:

“This is clear illustration of why families should be entitled to legal advice and representation at inquests. The process of any inquest is intimidating and distressing, but in circumstances where there is a complex and detailed medical investigation, it is important for families to have their own legal representation to assist in navigating the process, but also to ensure any of the families' concerns are addressed.

“The reality is that in most cases, hospitals have the benefit of highly experienced legal teams and experts, which are funded by taxpayers, whilst bereaved families are expected to find lawyers to represent them for free. Having had first-hand experience of this, I welcome the Justice Committee’s recent recommendation calling for public funding for legal representation to be available to assist bereaved families at inquests, which is a positive step in the right direction.

“Thankfully, in Daniel’s case, the Trust were able to do the right thing, by agreeing to pay damages, which will help support Daniel’s family including his two young children.”

Leigh Day worked on the case with Martin Forde QC of One Crown Office Row Chambers.

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Suzanne White

Suzanne White

Suzanne White is head of the medical negligence team and has specialised in this area of law since qualifying in 1999

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