What to do when medical negligence turns into terminal illness

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Who’d be a frog?

In the classic tale of old, a lovely green frog is enjoying bathing in his tub of water, unaware that a flame is alight underneath. The water slowly heats, so slowly that poor old froggy doesn’t realise he’s up to his neck in very hot water and things are steadily becoming more serious, with terrible possibilities looming. Eventually, the water is way too hot and our poor frog, with the clarity of hindsight, realises that jumping out sooner would have worked better.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing of course, but sometimes that clarity of rear vision often comes too late. Our frog story is certainly not meant to make light of someone’s dire health circumstances, but to illustrate the importance of taking action sooner rather than later, even if you think that things are going okay.

This can apply in both a medical sense, and in our particular field, a legal sense.

Trust and assumption

As a society, we place great faith in our medical professionals, as is rightly deserved. They often work under pressure and with demands. The trap can be that we are so attuned to trusting, we assume that this professional group never ever gets it wrong. We accept professional medical advice without question. Often, we don’t know what to ask. We don’t know what we don’t know.

Unfortunately, cases exist where meningitis, heart issues, staph infections, DVT or stroke have been, for whatever reason, diagnosed as something less potentially fatal. Serious mental health issues have been diagnosed as lesser problems, and deadly cancers have been misdiagnosed, or missed altogether. Negligence has allowed terminal illness to develop without the proper treatment.

What would a reasonable person have done?

The test applied in these circumstances is to ask: how would a similarly trained medical professional have proceeded, and what would their investigation and diagnosis have revealed? Was the original diagnosis and treatment (or lack of) in error, and therefore, is this person’s trauma or tragedy possibly a case of negligence or medical malpractice?

There is a time limit

This heading is not referring to the tragic shortening of a human life because of medical negligence, but simply refers to the Statute of Limitations that applies in NSW. This limit of 3 years from the initial event restricts the time period in which a claim can be initiated.

Once initiated, the claim may take significant time to be seen to its conclusion, but the important thing is for it to be initiated before the limitation period expires.

An individual, their immediate family, or if it eventually proves necessary, their executor and estate, may continue the claim as needed, to see it through to its conclusion.

The onus of proof

As would be imagined, no two cases are the same, and all are usually quite complex. Much evidence needs to be gathered, and appropriate expert testimony obtained. It is paramount that as many details as possible are recorded: appointment dates, conversations, advice given, which tests were performed.

Experiencing such medical trauma can be devastating, and very often, the last thing one thinks about is writing down these details; there is enough going on just getting through it.

We may not be able to help In a medical sense, but perhaps we can ease the pain by diligently and compassionately pursuing appropriate recompense.

Medical negligence? Act now – we will hear you. It will be easier with sound legal advice from the experts. Owen Hodge Lawyers; we are here to help. Contact us today on 1800 770 780 or via email at ohl@owenhodge.com.au

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