A claim for clinical negligence can arise at any time, and the first you are likely to know about it may be in a letter from the patient or their solicitor. This is often a real shock and can knock your confidence. Everyone will react differently and in our experience, the most common responses are anger, self-criticism or denying the validity of the claim.
Our team of advisers and claims experts are experienced in dealing with these matters and are here to support and guide you throughout any claim, which we appreciate can be very stressful.
The process of assessing a clinical negligence claim will usually involve seeking the opinion of independent expert witnesses, who review the case and give their opinion as to whether there is any possible liability relating to the clinical management.
If a claim can be successfully defended, and the member wants to defend it, we will mount a robust defence
Our experts are dentists or dental care professionals with extensive experience in the relevant field of dentistry. They will be asked to comment on the clinical management and compare this with that of a reasonable dentist or dental care professional in the same sub-specialty and with the same experience.
The expert's duty is to give objective, impartial advice. If, after obtaining expert opinion, we consider a breach of duty has caused the patient avoidable loss or damage, we will discuss this with you and with your consent make an offer to settle the claim.
If there is no evidence of a breach of duty or, if there was a breach, but it did not cause the patient any avoidable loss or damage, we will deny liability on your behalf. A member may ask us to settle a claim that we feel should be defended, or vice versa, but after talking it through we are usually able to agree a way forward.
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Sometimes a case cannot be successfully defended if the standard of care is called into question because of non-clinical factors, for example a lack of adequate evidence, such as poor clinical records.
You can be assured that the decision to defend or settle a case is taken with you and with your best interests foremost. It may be that, based on our experience, we feel a member's account of events will not stand up to close scrutiny and cross examination, if the matter were to go to trial in court. In these situations we are likely to ask you to see the case from the claimant's perspective and to consider how a judge might view the available evidence. Claims for negligence are ultimately decided by judges sitting alone, and applying the test of the balance of probabilities to the available evidence. Everyone at the DDU has your best interests at heart and we believe it is better to identify any weaknesses or difficulties at an early stage and long before any trial might take place, rather than put members through difficult questioning in open court, with the risk of adverse local publicity.
Whether a claim is dropped, settled before trial, settled at trial or found in favour of the member, the legal costs may be high on both sides. Bearing in mind our responsibility to all members to carefully manage and protect the mutual fund, we can reassure you that we do not settle claims for purely financial considerations or for expediency. If a claim can be successfully defended, and the member wants to defend it, we will mount a robust defence, and this has the added benefit of discouraging claims without merit.