Reporting clinical negligence cases
It was refreshing to see the Law Society Gazette this week bring some much-needed balance to the gross misreporting about clinical negligence claims.
All too often, those who receive a clinical negligence pay-out are described as scroungers by the media and their compensation treated as though it is a windfall. Yet in my experience of talking to claimants over the years, nothing could be further from the truth.
The Gazette piece from deputy news editor, John Hyde speaks to the O’ Reggio family, who received £6.8m from an NHS Trust that made a catastrophic mistake during the birth of their son, Joseph, who was left severely brain-damaged.
Without exception, of the hundreds of claimants I have spoken to over the years, money was never their primary motivation. Most were very reluctant to bring a claim, echoing the sentiments of Mrs O’Reggio about the compensation culture. She told John Hyde: ‘I feel hypocritical as I still disagree with the compensation culture…My main aim from suing, to be honest, was to get an apology and [admission] from the hospital. If they were guilty then I wanted Joseph’s future sorted.’
Like most of the families I have worked with, they proceeded with legal action, not to line their pockets, but because it was the only way to get some recognition from the medical establishment that had let them down so badly and for many, it was a necessity in order to cope with the costs of their new life, post-injury.
There should be a much kinder, more balanced dialogue when reporting such cases and that must start with the language used. Remember, the idea behind compensation is to put the person back into the position they would have been had the injury not occurred. Yet, routinely claimants who receive compensation are described as having ‘won’ the money.
Claimants are not winners. The reality is that every single genuine claimant, when given the choice, would opt to turn back the clock to pre-injury rather than be the recipient of a pay-out.
Litigation is not just about compensation that helps to rebuild lives, it also holds institutions accountable, many of whom go on to make changes to practice. It can be a force for change.