On 18th March 2016 Scotland’s chief statistician published the civil justice statistics for 2014-15. These statistics capture the picture before the reforms in the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 took effect. One of the standout figures was that there has been a 224% rise in clinical negligence cases initiated in the Court of Session. Surely this cannot be right?
Overall, the number of civil law cases raised in the Scottish courts was at its lowest since the collection of current statistics began in 2008-09. However, the number of cases in the Court of Session was up 13% from the previous year - 603 extra cases.
There were 545 clinical negligence cases raised in the Court of Session in 2014-15. This compares to 168 in the previous year - a 224% increase. These account for the majority of the extra cases raised in Scotland’s highest court.
Looking at the Scottish courts as a whole, the number of clinical negligence cases raised in 2014-15 was 629, compared with 262 in 2013-14 - a rise of 140%.
Can it really be the case that the standard of care from doctors and dentists has plummeted in the space of one year? At rate of one extra negligent act per day? Thankfully, the answer is no.
The figures released have classified cases involving mesh implants, breast implants and other healthcare products as clinical negligence cases. It is arguable as to whether this categorisation is accurate as most concern allegedly defective products. Some also involve allegations of a lack of informed consent - perhaps their categorisation is correct.
Although the percentage increases are large, the number of clinical negligence cases as a proportion of personal injury cases in Scotland is still low. Clinical negligence cases account for just 7% of all personal injury actions initiated.
What the figures do demonstrate is that, at a time when the number of actions raised generally is decreasing, the number of personal injury actions is rising - up 11% compared with the previous year. Regardless of the mis-categorisation (or otherwise) of clinical negligence cases, these figures demonstrate a broad trend of increased personal injury litigation.
Next year’s statistics will identify the changing behaviour of pursuers’ solicitors following the court reforms coming into effect. It is likely that the number of personal injuries cases initiated in the Court of Session will reduce dramatically whilst the sheriff courts see a marked increase.
However, given the value and complexity of clinical negligence cases it is likely that the majority will still be raised in the Court of Session. Whether their number will keep rising remains to be seen. In the meantime, rest assured your GP is not twice as dangerous as this time last year.