Medical negligence claims have long been complex and costly, with liability and causation often heavily disputed. Dorothea Dowling, Chairwoman of the Injuries Board, recently claimed in an Irish Times article that the State could potentially save up to €50million over three years by allowing medical negligence claims to be assessed by the Injuries Board. Ms Dowling claims this would ensure that claims are dealt with more speedily thereby resulting in substantial savings in legal costs. This could be particularly beneficial in circumstances where medical negligence claims are increasing by up to a third each year coupled with the majority of legal costs being borne by the taxpayer via the State Claims Agency.
While the Injuries Board has been largely successful and self-financing in dealing with personal injuries matters following road traffic accidents and accidents at work among others, is it uncertain how such an approach would benefit medical negligence claims. While the Injuries Board has been largely successful and self-financing in dealing with personal injuries matters following road traffic accidents and accidents at work among others, is it uncertain how such an approach would benefit medical negligence claims.
The Medical Injuries Alliance has also voiced its concerns with regard to the fact that only one in every 200 medical accidents results in legal action being commenced and with 50% of these claims under the clinical indemnity scheme being resolved by the State Claims Agency resulting in a settlement, compared with 25% in 2008. Therefore where a Plaintiff is only required to fill in an application form under the Medical Injuries Board in pursuit of a claim, therein the potential for a massive increase in the number of claims being made will be significant.
However, significant legal reform is still ultimately required within the Irish legal and healthcare system and significant benefits could accrue from reductions in costs and case/claim durations. We can for example undertake a comparative analysis with other common law jurisdictions such as the UK, where pre-action protocols have proved hugely successful. This provision encourages openness should something go ‘wrong’ and involves mandatory rules relating to the exchange of information. Timescales for such exchange apply in the UK to medical negligence claims before litigation commences. The result of such an approach is that medical cases often settle much earlier or are discontinued, mutually benefiting all sides and saving court time.
In Ireland, the Medical Negligence Working Group, chaired by Ms Justice Mary Irvine has looked at many options for better managing medical negligence claims, including case management procedures and the application or introduction of recommendations are eagerly awaited by practitioners, medical professionals and insurers alike.