How the Jackson proposals could affect negligence claims made on behalf of the elderly
We recently successfully won a case brought by a son regarding the negligent care of his elderly mother.
Mrs Rosa Smith who lived in Waltham Abbey and was in her eighties, was taken to the Princess Alexandra Hospital (PAH) in October 2014 following a collapse. Her condition deteriorated and she was admitted to the high dependency unit. However, she responded well to treatment and was about to be discharged when she developed severe gastric symptoms. It’s worth noting that the ward she had been sent to when she was discharged from the high-dependency unit had been closed due to an outbreak of norovirus.
Over the next two days her condition rapidly deteriorated; she developed renal problems and her consciousness decreased. Her family expressed their concerns as they didn’t feel that staff were responding appropriately to her decline. Sadly, Mrs Smith died whilst being reviewed by the critical care outreach team.
Following her death, the hospital carried out a review and completed a comprehensive Root Cause Analysis Investigation Report which noted a number of major issues with her care. The failings identified included a failure by nursing and medical staff to follow the escalation process, the non-responsiveness of the on-call doctor, and the failure to follow oxygen prescribing guidelines. The report also cited contributory factors, including staffing issues following the norovirus outbreak, a lack of a senior review of the patient overnight, failure to record the patient’s respiratory rate, and inaccurate completion of observation charts.
After several months, and despite the admitted failings detailed in the Root Cause Analysis report, the hospital refused to accept legal responsibility, forcing us to obtain additional costly medical evidence and delaying closure for the family. PAH finally admitted liability and settled the claim, making a payment to our client for the unnecessary pain and suffering that had been caused.
Concerns for the future highlighted by this case
If the working party recommended by Lord Justice Jackson decides to limit legal fees where claims for damages are worth less than £25,000, then cases like this one might no longer be able to be brought because the fees would not cover the costs of investigating the failings. This would mean that cases of neglect of the elderly would not be exposed and there would be no improvements in care.
Not only could this mean that families are denied justice for the loss of a loved one, but standards in health care could deteriorate if shortcomings and negligent actions are not highlighted and preventative measures put in place. Nor would it be easy for an individual claimant to bring their own case, as this would require considerable specialist knowledge based on years of experience.
Meanwhile, ahead of any change in regulation, we will continue to fight for justice on behalf of our clients.