Total Pageviews

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

£24m damages - worth every penny

Earlier this week, The Guardian reported on what could be the biggest Medical Negligence payout that has been seen in the UK. Damages could be as high as £24m.

As is so often the case, this was a tragedy which was completely avoidable.

Maisha Najeeb suffered from arterio-venous malformation (AVM). It is a condition that affects the blood vessels in the brain. It is manageable condition. Treatment involves the use of a type of glue. Dye is then injected to monitor the blood flow. Due to a catastrophic error the glue was injected into her brain instead of the dye. As a result she is now profoundly brain damaged.

Maisha was a generally healthy 10 year old who is now dependant on others for the rest of her life. The hospital admitted negligence and promised to introduce measures to avoid a similar mix up happening again.

It is easy to see awards like this as some sort of lottery win. In fact the actual award could be far less. If Maisha lives to 64 then the total annual payments will reach the £24m mark. If she only lives to a much younger age then payments will stop.

But I would not be surprised to hear politicians and some newspapers bemoaning the cost of these pay outs to the beleaguered NHS. We might even here the tired references to a compensation culture and defensive medicine. The reality is that this was a blunder which has ruined the life of a bright young girl. The compensation will just about cover her medical and care needs for life – however long or short that might be.

It is almost certain that Maisha’s case was pursued with the benefit of legal aid. Children were automatically eligible in their own right until last year. If the case was starting today there would be no legal aid. The state no longer funds actions like this – even where a life is destroyed by the state’s own health service. She would have to find a lawyer willing to pursue the case on a no win no fee basis. Yes – those very no win no fee lawyers who are regularly blamed for everything except the weather –

Some of her damages could even have been eaten up in legal costs.

It is so pleasing to see some justice for Maisha. All the money in the world will not give her back her life.

This is exactly the sort of case that demonstrates the need for a justice system that gives access to all.

Friday, 24 January 2014

In which the government cuts back on access to justice but splashes cash on on IT system...

We haven’t talked about legal aid for a while. That’s no great surprise as there is very little left. I have previously referred to Access to Justice as a wasteland.

There has been one glimmer of hope recently. But it remains doubtful whether it will be any more than that.

Earlier his month we saw the publication of the Low Commission on Legal Aid. This Report from the group led by Lord Low makes a number of recommendations. There is a call for urgent steps to be taken to ensure access to justice for the most vulnerable especially in relation to housing, debt and welfare rights. Interestingly the report suggests a £100m fund partly financed by the government and partly from other sources including a levy on pay day loan companies.

It makes the obvious, but very important point that voluntary agencies are simply not able to cope. So will this report make any difference? Sadly I am less than optimistic. In his December 2013 statement the Chancellor, George Osborne promised further cuts in public spending with the Ministry of Justice in the firing line –

Experience shows that access to justice for ordinary people is low on the agenda for this government.

But the government does manage to find money for some rather less useful projects.

The Legal Agency recently spent £54.3m on an upgrade to its online application and billing system. The launch of this upgrade has been deferred –

So funds almost exactly matching the Low Commission's recommendation for the government's contribution to a Legal Aid Scheme, have just been thrown at an IT system, which doesn’t seem to be working.

Can anybody explain the logic?

Friday, 17 January 2014

Four 999 Calls - no one came (Update)

My firm EAD is representing Joyce Pring, the widow of Frederick Pring – they were married for 38 years.

Last year Frederick died in the most tragic of circumstances.
He suffered from COPD and heart failure for a number of years. On the 21st March 2013 he began to suffer chest pains which were getting gradually worse. Then the pain became very severe. He was also very breathless. He knew it was serious and asked his wife to call 999. She did this.

She rang the emergency services at 1:09 am. She went through a number of questions with the operator. They then waited for an ambulance to come.

Mrs. Pring called again at 01:19 am; she was re-assured that an ambulance was on its way and she was asked the same questions as before. Mr. Pring was getting worse by the minute. Still there was no ambulance. By now they were both very scared.
She called a third time at 01:38 am and went through the whole process yet again. Mrs. Pring became increasingly frustrated.

At around 01:45 am, Frederick told Joyce that he was ‘going’. Frederick then fell back onto the bed. Joyce knew that she had lost her husband.

Mrs. Pring called 999 a fourth time at 01:51 am to report that her husband was dead. Remarkably she was asked similar questions again. They asked if he was conscious and told Mrs.Pring to clear his airways. Mrs. Pring was told to move him from the bed to the floor which was impossibility. Mrs. Pring had to reiterate that her husband was dead.

At 01:57, two ambulances arrived together, then soon after an ambulance from the North West of England arrived. It was too late for paramedics to do anything.

We all associate 999 with two things. Firstly, it means that someone is in desperate need. Secondly, it means that help is on its way. Here, there was call after call after call. But no one came. It is hard to imagine a worse nightmare.

Yesterday the inquest into Frederick Pring’s death began. The recordings of the telephone calls made by Mrs. Pring to the Welsh Ambulance Service NHS Trust were played out loud in court. Mrs. Pring had to leave the court room whilst they were played as she said listening to them would of have been too distressing. The fourth and final call in particular, when she was asked to lift Fred from the bed and lay him on the floor and clear his airways, when she knew he was dead, haunts her to this day.

The inquest the coroner decided to invoke Article 2 of the European convention on Human Rights (Right to Life), ths widening the scope of the inquiry. Mrs. Pring was pleased with the coroner’s decision to do so. Mrs. Pring believes that her husband has been let down by a systemic failure and does not seek to blame any one individual in this case.

There are many lessons to be learned from this tragedy.

I also hope that politicians will begin to appreciate that cases like this are nothing to do with any compensation culture. This case is all about justice for a poor woman who is entitled to answers to questions.

UPDATE - on 20th January the Coroner for North EastWales gave a narrative verdict. He has required the Welsh Ambulance Service and the Hospital Board to respond within 56 days to concerns about prioritisation of calls and delays in handing over patients at A/E. They are required to state what action has been taken or will be taken in order to prevent future deaths and to avoid, for other families, a repeat of the harrowing events which beset Mr Pring. He said -

'The loss of even a single life to a potentially avoidable delay is unacceptable and so I intend to make reports to both the Ambulance Trust and the Health Board advising them of my concerns that unless action is taken, circumstances creating a risk of other deaths will continue to exist.'

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The Law - a career for everyone??

Simon Hughes MP has been an interesting addition to the Ministry of Justice team.

He was a practising barrister for about 9 years before winning the famous Bermondsey by-election in 1983.

He was critical of Government plans to curtail the right of Defendants to select their own lawyers. He has also criticised legal aid cuts that came in last year –

So it will be interesting to see how he gets on with Chris Grayling.

He has made his views known on very important subject; need for a diverse legal profession. Earlier this week he described the profession as being stuck in Victorian era and called for a greater representation, particularly,  from women and ethnic minority groups –

He called on law firms to - “proactively go out and look for people from all communities in Britain to be lawyers”. 

This has been a major concern for the profession for some time. In 2012 I posted a blog about my fears that the law was becoming a career for the rich –

The Minister’s words are therefore encouraging. However they don’t address the real causes of the problem. We all want a profession that is as inclusive as possible. But there is little incentive for the best candidates to choose the law as a career. They have to run up eye watering levels of debt, sometimes as high as £50k. There is a dire shortage of training places for trainee solicitors or barristers. The minimum salary for trainees will shortly disappear.

I have said before, that I would probably have not been able to qualify as a solicitor if I was starting now. Many of my colleagues say the same.

So what is the government doing to resolve these problems? Mr. Hughes’ statement hardly fills one with enthusiasm - “It may be there’s an additional bit of financial help you need to give to encourage people from poor backgrounds to come into the legal profession at the bottom end”. An additional 'bit' of financial help is like offering someone shelter in your tent to hide from an avalanche.

I do not know a single lawyer who is not committed to a diverse profession. But rhetoric like this contributes nothing to the debate.  We need a real commitment to deal with student debt, an issue on which the Lib Dems have not covered themselves in glory. We also need to see regulators reviewing their decision on salaries, so the brightest students are not drawn to other professions.

And a re-think of the relentless attacks on the profession – particularly on those who represent ordinary people – would also play its part.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

I'm in the money ... a rant!

It seems that I am entitled to claim damages for noise induced hearing loss and could well look forward to getting a cheque for up to £10k! Well that will certainly come in handy after an expensive Christmas and New Year break.

Last night I was sitting down to my tea and watching the end of Pointless when the phone went. These annoying cold calls always seem to come at the same time. But this caller was not trying to sell me a mortgage. She introduced herself as Carly from the Hearing Loss Good News Centre or something like that. She certainly had good news for me. I could be in the money. I had come up on their ‘register’ as someone who had worked in a noisy environment in the past and might be entitled to pursue a legal claim. I was a little surprised as I have never worked in noise in my life. I did see Led Zeppelin in 1971 and had a ringing in my ears for an hour or so, but that’s about it.

I asked her why they thought I was entitled and where they had got my details from. I was told that my name had come up on ‘the register’. Register? I went on to ask the usual questions about cold calling, MOJ Registration, referral fee bans. The response to all of these questions was that my name had come up on the register and they were calling to advise me of my rights. Clearly Carly had reached the limits of her script and I decided to end the call watch the end of Pointless, which seemed appropriate.

So for any of us who do industrial disease work the word is out. No longer do we have to worry about causation, breach of duty, limitation and those other irritations. If a client’s name is on the register then that’s the end of the matter. Even if there has never been any noise exposure. No wonder the government has kept the magic register a secret!

Joking aside, this deserves a serious rant. How often are claimant lawyers described as ambulance chasing money grabbers who are responsible for high insurance premiums and the parlous state of the NHS? We have seen fees slashed access to justice virtually eliminated and the depressing news of closures almost on a weekly basis. Isn’t the real problem with companies like this that seem to ignore all regulation? I was cold called and given incorrect, dishonest, information by a young caller who knew nothing at all about hearing loss.

To add insult to injury I later heard a radio advert promising damages of ‘up to £10k’. I have settled many hearing loss cases with damages far higher than that. Where does that arbitrary figure come from? Will 2014 be the year when lawyers who buy claims from these companies are themselves sued for under-settlement?

The government and regulators would serve the public better by doing more to eliminate this type of behaviour rather than attacking the obvious and easy targets – the lawyers.

Here endeth the first rant of the year!