Proposals to cap legal fees in clinical negligence cases could prevent serious claims from being heard, particularly those involving older people and babies.
That’s the view of a legal expert in Shropshire who said Government plans to cap costs at a proportion of the damages awarded could have serious ramifications for people fighting for justice following medical accidents.
The Government has criticised some law firms for charging “excessive” fees and wants to introduce a rule so legal fees can only be a certain percentage of the compensation won in a case.
But Lucy Small, a lawyer specialising in clinical negligence at Lanyon Bowdler Solicitors, said the proposals would have an unfair impact on lower cash-value cases.
She said: “The proposal to base the legal costs cap on a proportion of the damages awarded would make some claims unviable.
“The damages awarded to people with no or low income, or no dependents, such as young adults, older people, or in stillbirth or child death cases, is usually relatively small but can be just as complex and costly to investigate as any other case.
“These plans will have a detrimental effect on the access to justice of the injured and bereaved.”
The NHS Litigation Authority has just issued a report, saying a third of £1.1 billion paid out in 2014 in compensation payments was spent on legal costs, and in June, health minister Ben Gummer unveiled the proposals to fix legal fees at a set rate depending on the amount of compensation awarded to patients.
Announcing the plans, Mr Gummer, said: “The NHS must make sure every penny counts. Unscrupulously, some lawyers have used patient claims to load grossly excessive costs onto the NHS and charge far more than the patient receives in compensation.”
Lucy Small has dealt with a number of cases for Lanyon Bowdler in Shropshire and is among a handful of lawyers in the UK on the national Action Against Medical Accidents charity’s legal panel, which advises on complaints against hospitals and health trusts following medical accidents or errors.
She added: “The claims about law firms overcharging for legal work have been blown out of proportion, using the most extreme examples of a case whereby the damages awarded were low and costs high and not looking at what has caused this, the injury suffered by the patient.
“Clinical negligence cases can be extremely complex, both in terms of the allegations of a failure in the standard of care of the clinicians and in establishing what damage flowed from that failure.
“Both elements must be satisfied to succeed in a claim in clinical negligence. It doesn’t mean that those with financially lower value claims have a less valuable case.
“Judges already can and do limit costs if they are found to be unjustified. We have robust systems in place to address any issue of excessive fees being sought.”
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