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This is our blog.  It contains most posts Julian makes at his own blog http://www.westaustralianmedicalnegligence.com, along with posts relating to the firm specifically: If Julian can convince them to do so, it will also include blogs by other staff!

Hospital Admin (+ responsibility) reorganisation

It is no doubt my age..  but I have an acute sense of deja vu!

As from 1 July 2016, we have ‘reverted’ to the old scheme of Boards of Management running our major hospitals (and geographic areas).  See the Health Services Act 2016 + the 30 June 16 Government Gazette.  We now have a North Metropolitan Health Service etc.

The consequence, if I am right, is that the Minister for Health (not in this context the MP, but the entity incorporated as the relevant hospital board), was abolished and from 1 July 2016, any existing liability has transferred to the ‘new’ Board.  Strictly speaking, this should require an application to add/substitute the ‘new’ defendant.  I understand RiskCover are taking a pragmatic approach, to existing proceedings (provided served).

Anyone needing help with such an application, how to plead the transmission, let me know.. happy to help (I’ve been here before!)

the risk of handling your own case (without a lawyer)

My impression is that there has been an increase in recent times of cases presented before our District Court in which claimants have represented themselves, without a lawyer.

A sobering example of the dangers of this course, is the New South Wales Supreme Court’s recent decision in Fan -v- South Eastern Sydney Local Health District (No. 3) [2015] NSWSC 1620.

In this decision by Justice Harrison, the court dealt with the legal costs following failure of Mr Fan’s medical negligence claim.  Mr Fan parted company with his lawyers in May 2013, two years before trial. He was “assisted” in presenting his case by his son who it appears was a law student. Trial took 10 days in March and May 2015.

Justice Harrison ordered that Mr Fan pay the health service’s legal costs of the claim in the sum of $250,000. In part this followed the fact the defendant, it was disclosed, had made 3 separate settlement offers over the course of the proceedings, including offers to pay $100,000 and later $250,000 in settlement of Mr Fan’s claim, which offers had been rejected.

This must have added insult to injury for Mr Fan.  Not only did he lose his claim, but he did so having rejected such settlement offers from the defence.

As stated earlier, this seems to be a growing trend for plaintiffs, for whatever reason, to seek to present their own cases at trial. Whilst presenting the case in person avoids costs of the plaintiff’s own legal representation, as this case clearly demonstrates, the plaintiff nonetheless still faces the risk of being ordered to pay a very substantial sum to the defendant if the claim does not succeed.

Note as a measure of the costs expended, the $250,000 is actually slightly less than 1/2 the total legal costs incurred by the defendant in relation to the case which was stated as $512,250.83…

The Value of an Apology.. its more than you may think!

In several cases concluded in the last month or 2 of 2013, I have again been reminded of the remarkable ‘value’ of an expression of regret by health professionals in two recent cases.

In the first, following a mediation in the court, very much to his credit, the GP defendant at my request, but without obligation, expressed regret to a client whose wife died following late diagnosis of metastatic colon cancer.  I am convinced that my client obtained infinitely greater comfort and closure in relation to the issue from this expression of regret than the relatively modest monetary compensation to be paid for his psychological suffering due to his wife’s foreshortened palliative care period.

Similarly, in a Coronial Inquest  in which I appeared for family of an elderly but active fellow who died as a consequence of inguinal hernia surgery, the fact the GP anaesthetist involved unambiguously demonstrated sadness at what had occurred and illustrated the emotional impact his patient’s death had had upon him,  had a profound effect on the deceased family members concerned.

In neither of these two cases was the expression of regret coupled with, or implicitly involving any admission of culpability (morally or legally).  This is in my experience almost always of secondary importance to the patient and family.  The important point both cases demonstrate is the ‘humanness” of the health professional and that the adverse outcome has, as ought be expected, impacted upon them, perhaps causing reflection and even perhaps, a change in future practice.

A lesson I think that health professionals and their insurers would do well to heed.

Facing Extinction? The trial in medical negligence claims

Interestingly, I have, in the last 6 to 12 months noted a drop in the number of medical negligence and other personal injury claims proceeding to trial  (it has to be said with some personal frustration/disappointment).

Traditionally my advice to clients has been that, if they obtain a supportive expert opinion critical of the care in issue, the chances are somewhere between 5 and 10% their  medical negligence case may need to proceed to trial.  On the assumption that about 50 cases the firm handles proceed to pre-trial conference per year, traditionally a couple of cases would not be resolved and proceed to trial each year.

My anecdotal impression seemed supported by the recent decision by the Supreme Court to encourage plaintiffs in complex medical or other personal injury claims to consider initiating proceedings in such court.  Whilst such Court has had jurisdiction to handle such matters, until this point, they have tended to remit any cases brought, to the District Court (apart from asbestos related cases).

I note Bill Madden’s recent post confirming that this trend is not isolated to Western Australia and in fact across Australia.  The present best figures Bill cites suggest “only” 3% of medical claims brought in Australia proceed to trial.

When regard is had to those cases in which plaintiffs are poorly advised and do not have any credible prospect of their claim succeeding, those  involving incredible complexity of medical issue and/or fundamental issues as to primary fact, these figures should be very encouraging to potential plaintiffs.  Provided there claim is appropriately investigated and handled, the prospects of a trial being required to resolve such a claim, as these figures show, is very small indeed.

The further observation that can be made is that with so few cases proceeding to trial, traditional criteria for selection of Judges may need to be rethought.  If, in the vast majority of cases, the judge’s role is in effect to facilitate a process leading to a negotiated settlement, different skills may be required than the traditional trial role.  This observation has already been very apparent in relation to the contemporary role for Registrars in the court. Whilst 20 years ago this primarily involved dealing with contentious interlocutory disputes, their role (and consequent key areas for expertise and training) is today primarily in facilitating discussion between the parties through pre-trial conference and mediation processes.