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Feedback on the legal process from parents who have brought cases on behalf of their brain injured child

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    Kerstin Kubiak, Partner, shares reflective feedback from parents who have pursued clinical negligence claims for their children, with a view to being informative and helpful to other parents who may be considering similar litigation.

    By Kerstin Kubiak

It is every parent’s worst nightmare for their child to be ill or injured, but the situation is made all the worse when you believe that injury was preventable and caused by the negligent actions of medical staff, people who are wholly trusted to care and protect their patients. When there has been a negligently incurred injury to a child during childbirth or in infancy the emotions of parents range from guilt, to anger to despair. It is only after very careful thought, and often desperation, that parents seek the advice of a solicitor so that they can provide for the needs of their injured child. It is a rarely a decision that is taken lightly, for the road of litigation can be a difficult and arduous one.

My Partners and I in the Clinical Negligence Team have sought the reflective views of clients who brought claims on behalf of their child. The children had suffered a catastrophic brain injury as a result of negligent medical care. All four families successfully sued the NHS for damages on behalf of their child and were awarded multi million pound settlements. None of the cases went to trial but were settled by way of alternative dispute resolution following lengthy investigations into the claims.

In reviewing the feedback from our clients very similar themes emerged which I summarise below:

To be fully informed:

– Parents want to know fully what the case will entail from the outset, without it being “sugar coated”; they want frank, honest information setting out what stages will be undertaken and the long timescales involve. They need to know the road ahead.

– It is helpful to set out the two stages of establishing liability and then valuing the case and how the Court will manage the timetabling of the case.

– Being kept regularly informed and updated of progress was helpful. It is good to feel part of the process and involved in controlling what happens in the case. It was felt correspondence by email was useful.

To be on their side:

– It was reassuring that we were really fighting their corner and on their side throughout; for them it wasn’t just about the money, but the principle of ensuring that their child was fully and fairly compensated for their injuries. Parents need to know that we have the best interests of their child at the fore.

– Parents want to be listened to and for their voice to be heard by the hospital concerned; it was important for them to express the child behind the paperwork and that lessons were learnt by the doctor / NHS Trust going forward.

To demonstrate understanding and competence:

– Compassion and empathy is very important particularly as families are allowing a lawyer into their lives when they feel exhausted, fraught and vulnerable; understanding of their position and where they are coming from is appreciated.

– They explained that when their child was injured and rendered disabled it was like a grieving process for them; they had lost the child they had/wanted and needed to adjust to life effectively with a new child. It caused huge levels of pain and reflection on what could have been done differently, which in turn raised emotions of anger and guilt. These feelings are all brought into the litigation process, particularly when advice given seemed unjust.

– It is important that the solicitor dealing with the case is clear, informative and trustworthy. A professional approach is required and when difficult messages are given firm, emotionless advice is needed. The term “robust” lawyer was frequently used.

To have an efficient working system:

– Clients wanted as much stress and burden as possible taken away from them and valued their lawyers offering help and advice where possible. Clients appreciate it if we anticipate and seek to stave off problems. A “we can sort this out” approach is welcomed.

– Home visits for meetings were needed; families have enough on their plates without having to travel for meetings where transportation of a disabled child is fraught or when childcare options are limited. Travelling to meetings with the legal team and experts can be difficult, to consider attendance by telephone link or Skype.

– Team working was considered good practice as it was seen that cases were progressed through more quickly and that generally there was then always someone in the office to contact if the lead lawyer wasn’t available. They wanted to know however that one single senior lawyer was managing the case and who was easily available.

In reflecting back none of our clients had regrets in embarking on the claim and are very grateful that their child has funds to provide lifetime security and funds to enable choices.

I am very grateful to our clients for providing such honest feedback and their wish to help inform other parents who are considering the litigation process.  All the solicitors at the clinical negligence team seek to fulfil the above wishes, as expressed by our clients.

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