It is often, understandably, assumed by potential Claimants in medical negligence cases that if they have been unfortunate enough to receive treatment and/or advice from a doctor, nurse or other clinician which was below the standard which one should reasonably expect, then there is always an entitlement to at least some compensation. This is not, in fact, the case.
For any medical or clinical negligence claim to succeed, the Claimant (who is usually the patient who received the treatment and/or advice in question) will have to prove not only that the medical treatment and/or advice received was inadequate and therefore negligent (this is referred to as “breach of duty”), but also that as a result of this negligence, the Claimant suffered injury which he or she would not otherwise have suffered (this is referred to as “causation”).
If a Claimant is able to show that his or her treating doctor breached the duty of care that the Claimant was owed, but cannot prove that he or she suffered injury as a result then the medical negligence claim will fail.
An example case:
A man, Mr X, falls off his bicycle and is taken by ambulance to the local hospital’s Accident and Emergency department complaining of pain in his left collar bone. An x-ray of the collar bone is carried out and Mr X is informed that the x-ray does not show any fracture. He is given some painkillers and is sent home.
One week later Mr X, who has been at home resting his arm and has not been working, attends his GP surgery as he is still in pain with his collar bone. Whilst there his GP confirms that he has received a copy of the x-ray report from the hospital which confirms that Mr X has sustained a fractured collar bone. The fracture is relatively minor and no surgery is going to be required. Mr X is told that the fracture will heal on its own.
In the above example there is very likely to be a breach of duty on the part of the hospital in that Mr X was incorrectly told that he had not fractured his collar bone whereas in fact he had. However, there is no medical negligence claim because there is no causation. Even if the correct diagnosis of a fractured collar bone had been made at the time, the only treatment would have been painkillers and avoiding strenuous use of the left arm (so as not to make the fracture worse) – both of which have happened in Mr X’ case anyway. In addition, any pain that Mr X suffered in the week between the accident and the diagnosis would have been present anyway.
The above hopefully shows that the often-used quote “Where there’s blame there’s a claim” is not always true.