The first time I secured a settlement in a brain injury case was in the late 1990s. It was a claim for a child who suffered from cerebral palsy following medical negligence in the first few days of his life. He was left with catastrophic injuries. He has no speech and no independent movement but is otherwise as intelligent as anybody. We secured a settlement of just over £2m. As is often the case, I kept in touch with the family for many years. I was so proud when he got his University degree. He is now an adult who lives independently, with lots of support. This was secured as a result of the compensation that he received. It enabled him to live in suitable accommodation, to have the 24/7 care that he needs and to make use of high-quality communication technology. He was appropriately compensated for the avoidable injury that he suffered. Both he and his family would have traded every penny for a healthy life.
High awards of damages sometimes look like lottery wins. They are often treated as such by the media. Reports of settlements like this regularly use words like ‘win’ and ‘payout’. Earlier this year, The S*n reported that a group of patients had won £46.9m over cancer blunders –
In a very recent report, we were told of a boy who was severely disabled after medical negligence. The headline reads –
‘Boy left severely disabled by medical blunder wins £2.1 million pay-out from NHS’
None of these victims have won anything. They and their families are left with a lifetime of struggle through no fault of their own. If they can establish that the injuries were caused by the negligence of medical practitioners, then they are entitled to damages. A small proportion is for the injury itself. The vast majority is to cover their needs for life.
Hasn’t the time come to stop calling them ‘winners’? This creates a hostility towards claimants who are perceived as draining money from the NHS. There is an even greater hostility towards the lawyers who fight for justice on their behalf. Since the removal of legal aid for most cases, the only way that cases can be brought is where those lawyers agree not to be paid if a case fails. The media still insists on calling them 'no win no fee lawyers' as a form of insult.
Let’s start referring to claimants as victims of negligence. Then we might see a move away from talk of reducing damages and legal costs, towards talk of avoiding such incidents in the first place.