Our team of specialist legal advisers works hard to help some of the many families struggling to manage the complex needs of a young child living with demanding physical, emotional and learning difficulties suffered as a result of medical negligence around the time of birth. Parents have enough to deal with day to day in the here and now, so our experience in identifying how future specialist care can be found and funded offers much needed reassurance.
It can take several years to investigate fully the series of events and particular circumstances surrounding a difficult pregnancy and delivery. This involves painstaking analysis of copious medical records, obtaining detailed witness statements from all involved and commissioning relevant assessments and reports from a range of independent medical, educational, care and psychological experts, to name but a few. Piecing together the evidence, then analysing the merits of a potential claim, takes time, skill, diligence and forensic attention to detail.
If the Hospital Trust in question admits liability (or is found by a Judge to be liable) for the injury, the next stage of negotiating an adequate and reasonable financial settlement can begin in earnest. The process of gauging just how much a child’s quality of life has been impacted by the negligence, and whether or not particular aspects are likely to improve, deteriorate or stay the same over time, can be agonisingly slow. MWB has established long-standing, professional relationships with some of the most respected, independent medico-legal specialists in the UK, seeking their opinions and expertise to build a picture of a young client’s needs now and in the future. Calculating how much it will cost to fund the complex and evolving support network as the child matures into adulthood is key, and must be undertaken with extreme thoughtfulness and care.
To get an idea of some of the things that need to be taken into account, let’s think about the story of an imaginary 4 year old girl we will call “Jan”. In the later months of pregnancy and early stages of labour, Jan’s mother was not monitored properly. The doctors and midwives caring for her missed vital signs that Jan was not getting enough oxygen in the womb and as a result she was sadly born with a brain injury known as cerebral palsy. Had reasonable procedure been followed correctly, and the warning signs been picked up at the right time, the baby would have been delivered earlier by emergency caesarean section and the brain injury would have been avoided.
So now Jan’s parents have a child whose ability to walk, talk and live independently as an adult is severely impaired. While Jan is still small they are managing relatively well, with the help of family and friends, to look after her needs, although difficulty in finding adequate child care means that both parents have had to cut their working hours to ensure round the clock care. Although early visits to their home by various experts in care, occupational therapy, education and assistive technology offer some very useful advice and guidance, it is almost impossible to put a figure on potential costs of future care needs until Jan is at least 7 years old. The process of working out what amount would be reasonable and sufficient just cannot be rushed until certain developmental milestones are reached.
The extent of some of Jan’s educational support needs only starts to become clearer as she goes to school. Certain electronic learning aids can make a lot of difference to her ability to communicate, contribute, create and participate. At home, meanwhile, as she gets older and heavier, helping her to get in and out of her bed, wheelchair and the family car will be more of a challenge. It becomes apparent that Jan’s mother is already developing back problems and neither she nor Jan’s father is getting any younger. They will need additional help and equipment as the years go by to keep up with many of the physical and emotional demands that a young adult with special needs brings to the family.
Can the family’s current home be adapted to accommodate her wheelchair, or might they need to move to another location with more accessible, ground floor living space Jan? Think also about specially adapted transport so Jan can get from A to B, as well as any therapies to maintain or improve her physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. What is the likely cost of these things? Of course thought also needs to be given to what would happen to Jan if both her parents were to die before her. Enough funds need to be factored into any damages settlement to see her through until the end of her life.
Jan’s legal team at MWB will help her family to navigate complex considerations such as these, offering experience, an objective eye and sensitive advice on prioritising and managing each stage of the process.
If you are thinking about making a claim in relation to negligence that you or a family member have suffered and you would like further advice, please contact a member of the Medical Negligence Team at Mayo Wynne Baxter on 0800 84 94 101.