We advised our client in respect of a compensation claim against a London hospital trust.
The legal basis for the claim was very unusual. Our client was a so-called ‘involuntary participant’; a category of primary victim described in the landmark case of Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire.
Our client was a nurse at the hospital at the time a child, F, came into A&E. Our client cared for F and recognised she needed treatment for sepsis, however, the registrar’s treatment plan was inadequate and not in accordance with the Trust’s Sepsis Protocol. Our client challenged this, but the registrar dismissed her concerns out of hand. The Trust’s hierarchical culture meant concerns about the inadequate treatment plan were not escalated. Unfortunately, by the time the correct treatment started, it was too late and F passed away the following morning. Our client was deeply traumatised by what had happened. She blamed herself and felt the Trust also blamed her. She suffered a psychological injury, the symptoms of which prevented her from continuing the nursing career she loved in the NHS.
The Trust conducted an investigation, which appeared to blame the nursing staff rather than the Registrar who had insisted on an incorrect treatment plan. However, at the Inquest and in other documentary evidence it was clear that responsibility rested with the Registrar, with the Coroner’s conclusion stating the Registrar “failed to recognise the basic fact that she was very seriously ill and in septic shock and needed aggressive and vigorous treatment. This was evident to every other clinician at the time, including all the nurses involved.”
We brought a compensation claim on the basis our client was an ‘involuntary participant’, defined as a person who suffers injury where “the negligent act of the defendant has put the plaintiff in the position of being, or of thinking that he is about to be or has been, the involuntary cause of another’s death or injury and the illness complained of stems from the shock to the plaintiff of the consciousness of this supposed fact”.
The ‘involuntary participant’ doctrine is untested in cases involving clinical negligence, therefore, this case had the potential to set a new legal precedent. However, the Defendant made an out-of-court settlement offer to our client after a long legal battle, which was a good outcome and gave her closure, thereby avoiding the stress of trial.
What was our role?
This was an especially strongly defended claim. It was heavily reliant on case law, with complex extrapolation to apply an old and rarely considered doctrine to a modern situation. Unfortunately, situations such as this, where a hierarchical culture is an obstacle to patient care and a fear of repercussions stand in the way of an open dialogue about responsibility and patient safety, do arise. Our work challenged these issues in the NHS, rather than solely focusing on compensation for our client.
The case was heavily contested, with considerable strategical manoeuvring by both parties (such as applications to amend pleadings, strikeout evidence etc). Legal liability was never accepted, however, we held firm in our position and gathered extensive evidence, which eventually led to a very successful conclusion for our client, obtaining a five-figure compensation settlement.
We acted on a ‘no-win-no-fee agreement’ and undertook extensive work over the course of four years, throughout which the Defendant refused to concede. Our work included obtaining disclosure from the Trust, a full complement of documentary evidence, expert evidence, and witness evidence from other clinicians involved in F’s care who could attest to the hierarchal and blame culture. We also involved a specialist barrister.
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