Overhaul of medical negligence cases urged

A radical overhaul of how medical negligence cases are managed is needed as parents of catastrophically injured children feel the litigation process is “cruel and disadvantageous”.

That is according to Ms Justice Mary Irvine, who said yesterday that families of those bringing cases over brain damage feel “a huge sense of grievance”.

“I would empathise with that feeling. The court process does not give them what they expected at the start and delay is part of that,” the judge said in the High Court.

She said new protocols and rules of disclosure are needed which would lead to early resolution and early admission of liability when justified.

Ms Justice Irvine was making her comments after the HSE applied to the court to explain what had happened in the case of an 8-year-old girl with cerebral palsy — Grace Orchard, from Carrigaline, Co Cork — who this month secured €5.8m in a settlement of her action against the HSE over the handling and management of her birth at a Cork hospital.

The settlement came on the 12th day of hearings to assess damages before the High Court. At the ruling, Ms Justice Mary Irvine was told that liability in Grace’s case was only conceded in January, over three years after proceedings had been initiated.

The judge had said she regretted the “extraordinary length of time” it had taken for the HSE to say it was culpable.

The Orchard family solicitor yesterday told the court it “beggars belief” that the State Claims Agency would not have engaged a different expert and instead waited almost a calendar year for the specialist report which led to the admission of liability in January this year.

Yesterday, Patrick Hanratty, for the HSE, said the State Claims Agency as indemnifier had “significant concerns the court may be of the opinion it has a policy to deny liability as a tactic”.

He said the biggest problem in the case was causation and that there was a significant delay in receiving a specialist report.

When the HSE got the report on January 16, 2014, it conceded liability and the Orchard side was immediately told that liability was not an issue.

Ms Justice Irvine said she does not believe there is any policy in the HSE to withhold admission of liability.

A lot of reports are late in the day and “it all leads me to my own view that we need a radical overhaul of how clinical negligence is managed”, she said.

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