A Law Society Gazette article published today reveals that the NHS Litigation Authority paid compensation in 2,514 court proceedings in 2015/16 compared to 797 successfully defended. This means 76% of cases succeed in court proceedings.
The information was obtained following a freedom of information request by the Society of Clinical Injury Lawyers. The figures also revealed how much is being wasted by NHS lawyers in defending strong cases as in 3,281 cases settled without court proceedings costs totalling £65.7m were paid out but in the 2,514 cases settled after court proceedings were begun costs increased to £213.1m.
The figures contradict poorly-researched articles in mainstream tabloid newspapers, such as the Daily Mail, in which claimant solicitors are routinely blamed for excessive costs (which ignores the fact judges no do not allow unreasonable or excessive costs and parties always have a right to have a bill assessed by a judge).
Contrary to newspaper articles, the figures instead show that unnecessarily defending good cases is vastly increasing costs for the NHS.
The Law Society Gazette describes this as a “pivotal moment in the debate around legal costs for clinical negligence claims.”
Fixed Costs – What’s the problem?
However, many in the legal profession fear the proof will be ignored and the Government will press ahead with the introduction of fixed costs in clinical negligence cases, following pressure from the NHS Litigation Authority. So why do lawyers worry about “fixed costs”? Well, the answer is that the levels being proposed for fixed costs are likely to be at a level which could leave clinical negligence cases not economically viable. In short: many injured people will not be able to find a lawyer to take on their case.
Whilst this would undoubtedly save the NHS money, without the fear of legal consequences for negligence standards of care are likely to fall and injured people from poorer backgrounds are likely to be left with no form of redress. The above-figures would perhaps suggest if changes were made within the NHS Litigation Authority huge savings could be made whilst legal rights remain protected.
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By James Winterbottom, Solicitor