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Concerned about historic medical care? Family of brain-damaged man shows long-term claims can be successful

View profile for Kim Daniells
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The tragic case of a man in his 20s, who was left disabled as a child after contracting a brain infection in hospital, but has now received a multi-million pound compensation package 22 years later, shows it is possible to win such cases even many years after the event.

The man contracted encephalitis, a life-threatening inflammation of the brain, while being treated at Watford General Hospital in 1997 when he was only one year old. He has required constant care ever since.

The High Court in London heard that the man's parents cared for him for many years before eventually contacting solicitors in 2012 as they initially believed his disabilities, including severe epilepsy, learning difficulties and behavioural problems, were related to the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

However, further investigations found there had been an eight-hour delay in giving the child the anti-viral drug Acyclovir while he was treated in hospital, his barrister, Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QC told the hearing as his family sued West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust to cover the lifetime cost of his care.

The trust disputed whether earlier treatment of the drug would have made a difference but Mr Justice Baker awarded the family a £1.5m lump sum, plus annual index-linked payments of £74,000, to cover the costs of his care for life.

Mr Justice Baker told the family: "You have done the utmost that could possibly have been expected of you and I'm glad that you will now, at last, have some security in your position."

A spokeswoman for West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust said it was pleased the claim had been resolved and added: “We hope that the financial compensation will ensure that the claimant has the best possible quality of life in the future".

The man’s parents said that all that they had ever wanted was for their son to receive the necessary care. The settlement meant they would be able to concentrate on the future and try to help their son make the most of life.

This case is significant in the context of medical claims, as the man suffered devastating injuries as a child in 1997 but won a substantial claim 22 years later - far longer than usual - to meet his highly complex medical and care needs.

Sadly, the man who is subject of this case will not be the only adult to have suffered terrible injuries as a result of failings in medical care as a child. Other families who have concerns about historic treatment, and are living with the consequences, should take heart from the success of this claim and seek legal advice.

Although generally there are time limits that apply to compensation claims, this case demonstrates that there are lesser-known circumstances in which these do not necessarily apply.  If, for example, a child suffers injury, they will still be able to instigate a claim until they are 21.  If a person lacks mental capacity, then a claim may be able to be pursued on their behalf even beyond this time.

It is important that families are aware that hospitals and doctors will not be judged by the standards that apply today, or when they make their claim. Instead the hospital in question will be found liable only if the treatment provided at the relevant time – even many years before - was negligent by the standards that applied at the time.

Many families who have concerns about the quality of medical care – particularly some years previously - often wrongly assume that the relevant medical records will have been destroyed but in fact they are generally kept for a long time so it can be possible to explore treatment that took place 10, or even, 20 years ago.

While it certainly is not wise to delay seeking advice where they are genuine concerns, if families or individuals are worried about the standard of medical care they, or one of their loved ones, received, this case demonstrates that in some circumstances claims can be successfully pursued, even many years later and families, or individuals who have been struggling can receive justice and fair compensation.