Although no two cases are the same, most cases will follow a similar pattern, in terms of how we investigate your claim and take it forward so as to secure compensation for you.
We will first of all screen your case free of charge, then set up funding to take the case forward (see How will my claim be funded?).
We will then investigate the case in order to seek to establish that negligence has occurred (see What is a medical negligence claim?).
This will involve:-
Firstly, securing all your medical records and materials, sorting and considering these and reviewing your case in light of what they show, reporting to you at that point.
Secondly, if the case remains viable, we will look to instruct one or more experts.
Usually, the first expert we instruct will address liability, whether there has been negligence – on a ‘desktop’ basis (ie without having to see you at that stage).
We will liaise with you in sourcing an appropriate expert and instructing them.
Often, receiving the first expert’s report is the most important stage of the case – the point at which we can start to say, with confidence, whether you have a case to take forward.
If you do then we may instruct the same and/or further experts to address issues like causation and, in particular, how you are now and what the future holds – by way of a condition and prognosis report (for which purpose you will need to go and see the expert).
Thirdly, at the same time, we are likely to send a Letter of Claim, under the Pre Action Protocol, setting out full details of what happened in your case and why we are alleging negligence – together with outline details as to the consequences flowing from the negligence. A Letter of Claim is sent under the Pre Action Protocol for clinical disputes and the Defendant has to respond to it, stating their case equally fully, within a Letter of Response, within 4 months.
If the Letter of Response makes admissions, then the likelihood is that we will work with you and with our experts to quantify the case and try and settle it short of Court proceedings being necessary.
If, on the other hand, liability is disputed then we liaise further with our experts (and perhaps a barrister at this stage) to review your case and, if it remains strong (as it usually will) then we will issue proceedings and take them through the Court.
Similarly, we will issue proceedings and progress them if, whilst admitting liability, the Defendant is unrealistic to the amount of damages they wish to offer to you – in which case we will issue proceedings to get the Court to assess these.
Once proceedings are issued, the first important thing to happen is that a junior Judge (a District Judge or Master) looks through the case papers and holds a Case Management Conference – a hearing (often by telephone) at which both parties’ representatives discuss the case with the Judge and agree (or the Judge orders) what steps need to be taken in order to progress it so that it is ready for trial.
Such steps are known as ‘directions’.
The first standard direction/step to be taken, ordinarily, is for the parties to list all the relevant documents they have and send the other copies of those documents.
Next up, witness statements are prepared and exchanged.
Beyond this, expert reports are finalised and exchanged.
The experts then meet, usually within each specialism, to discuss their views and try and narrow issues and explain why they disagree if they do. They meet pursuant to an agenda drafted by the lawyers and produce a report of their discussions.
The Court will expect the parties, at various points, to quantify the financial losses in the case within a schedule.
Depending on the complexity to the case, we may involve a specialist medical negligence barrister at the appropriate point.
The barrister may advise on the papers, in writing, or they may ask you to accompany us to a meeting with the barrister in their chambers in London – often attended by the experts in the case.
The case is likely to settle without having to go to hearing.
If a hearing is necessary, however, then there will normally be a lengthy meeting with a barrister and experts, you and us prior to the hearing.
You will usually be represented by the barrister at the hearing but we will attend Court with you as well.
We need to stress that very few cases go to hearing.
Most are settled short of Court hearings, many these days, without the need for Court proceedings.
In broad terms, you might expect your case to settle within one year of meeting with us – if it settles pre issue.
If it settles post issue then the case may take 18 months – 2 years.
If a trial is necessary then that may take place within 2 years – 2.5 years of your first meeting with us.