The decision, last week, of Bloom -v- HM Senior Coroner for the Western District of London (17 July 2014) could have significant implications when clinical negligence claims are settled following an inquest.

Background

Mr Bloom’s sister (C) was in her 50s and was hospitalised to have a kidney stone removed. However, her condition deteriorated post-surgery and she suffered a cardiac arrest, which sadly led to her death. An inquest found that C died of septicaemia. This was quashed by the High Court after Mr Bloom had obtained further evidence stating C’s risk of dying from septicaemia was low. A second inquest also found C died from septicaemia.

C’s brother then obtained expert evidence from a professor of anaesthesiology who concluded that C had received excessive volumes of fluid which had led to a cardiac arrest and brain damage, and that a failure to recognise a critical situation had been grossly negligent. In addition, further evidence was obtained from a fitness to practice panel in regards to C’s treating doctor, in the form of a statement outlining comments from the nurse on duty on the night in question.

Therefore, the sole question for the High Court was whether a third inquest was necessary or desirable following the emergence of fresh evidence which suggested that the truth had not been revealed at previous inquests.

It was held that the second inquest should be quashed and a third inquest was ordered in the interests of justice, on the basis that if the new expert evidence was accepted then the inquest was likely to reach a significantly different conclusion - for example, neglect. It was considered that the further evidence from the fitness to practice panel may also assist a new inquest, but this would not in itself justify a new inquest.

Comment

If, in the course of a clinical negligence claim or disciplinary proceedings, issues arise which significantly call into question the findings in a previous inquest, there is now a real risk following this case that the original inquest could be quashed and a new inquest held.