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New system hopes to cut legal costs in negligence cases

Medical indemnity experts say government plans will benefit patients rather than lawyers

Mark Gould

Monday, 04 January 2016

Proposals for a new system for resolving clinical negligence claims will benefits patients rather than lawyers supporting the claim, according to medical indemnity experts.

The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS) which represents doctors across the UK, has written to Health Minister Ben Gummer MP in advance of a government consultation on reducing legal costs in clinical negligence cases. According to evidence from medical indemnity organisations and the NHS Litigation Authority both the number of claims and the ratio of costs to damages are rising.

The Department of Health (DH) says that claimant legal costs for cases closed in 2013/14 amounted to 273% of damages awarded in claims between £1,000 and £10,000; 153% for claims between £10,000 and £25,000; 107% for claims between £25,000 and £50,000; 74% for claims between £50,000 and £100,000 and 54% for claims between £100,000 and £250,000.

It is understood that the Department of Health would like to see clinical negligence claims of up to £250,000 subject to fixed fees. A DH document seen by the Law Society Gazette in August last year suggests that some £25m would be saved by increasing the limit for fixed fees to £250,000. The department already estimates savings of £80m from the £100,000 limit. It notes that there appears some support amongst senior judiciary for the raised limit.

In the letter, MDDUS chief executive Chris Kenny stresses the need for the government to act quickly and decisively to cap legal costs to ensure patients rather than the legal services industry benefits from properly advanced claims and settlements.

“MDDUS shares the government’s concerns about the rise in cost of clinical negligence cases, particularly costs levied in claims by claimant lawyers,” says Kenny.

“We strongly support early implementation of this initiative.

“Money expended in compensating for clinical accidents should, as far as possible, find its way to the injured patient and not disproportionately to the lawyers supporting those patients’ claims.

“We have experienced cases where claimants’ lawyers’ bills have amounted to well over four times the damages awarded. One example involved a case of alleged delayed diagnosis of breast cancer where the case was settled for the sum of £35,000 with the claimant’s costs submitted at over £200,000 and eventually settled for £170,000.

“MDDUS has long believed that the object of a fair system for resolving clinical negligence claims should be timely, proper and just compensation for those wrongly damaged. It is our view that the distortion in the ratio between damages and claimant costs levels is having an adversely disproportionate and harmful effect, particularly, but not exclusively, in the lower value claims.”

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