Justice at stake: A mother's testimony on the vital role of legal representation in clinical negligence cases amid threats of fixed recoverable costs
The mother of a young man who lost his life in 2021 has spoken out about the help the Clinical Negligence team at Tees Law offered in a time of real need.
This case acts as a timely reminder that specialist legal representation is often crucial in not only supporting families but in helping to establish improved healthcare standards, at a time when the government’s proposals on Fixed Recoverable Costs look set to significantly limit access to justice for the most vulnerable groups in society.
In September 2021, Adam Bunn (pictured) was admitted to hospital, diagnosed with severe constipation, and discharged a few days later. However, a day after leaving the hospital, he was in hospital again – where he tragically collapsed and could not be revived.
An inquest this year revealed that 26-year-old Mr Bunn had sepsis and rectal faecal impaction. The sepsis should have been picked up from his blood test.
Katie Bunn, Adam’s mother, provides us with her story:
Our son, Adam, died suddenly and unexpectedly on Friday 17 September 2021. His inquest took place nearly two years later in August 2023. He was just 26 years old. The coroner concluded that there were six failings by the hospital trust in treating Adam, including one contributed to by neglect, and that it was likely Adam would have survived with the correct diagnosis and treatment.
Throughout the months leading up to Adam’s inquest, we were represented on a “no win, no fee” basis by Craig Knightley from Tees Law. Craig has extensive experience in the field of clinical negligence, and I have no doubt that, without the knowledge, guidance and expertise of our solicitor, the coroner would not have reached the same comprehensive conclusions, and the Trust would not have been finally forced to admit failings just prior to the inquest – 21 months after Adam’s death.
Adam had autism and learning disabilities but led a full and happy life in a supported living community in Clacton-on-Sea. He was in good health and had never been in hospital prior to September 2021. He was admitted to Colchester General in the early hours of Monday 13 September 2021 and diagnosed with severe constipation. He was in fact suffering from sepsis and rectal faecal impaction, neither of which were ever diagnosed despite clear indications from his blood tests that sepsis was present. Adam was discharged from hospital on 16 September but was rushed into A&E the next morning, where he collapsed in the waiting area and tragically could not be revived.
We feel truly fortunate that our solicitor, Craig Knightley, was able to represent us at the inquest. Throughout the lengthy process leading up to the actual inquest (there were four postponements along the way!) his reassuring professionalism, compassion and patience were immensely appreciated. So many times, my husband and I commented to each other that we could not have gone through this on our own. Craig understood the scope and workings of the coroner’s court, he engaged an impressive barrister who again had experience in clinical negligence cases and who was able to robustly question the witnesses from the Trust while speaking the language of the court (legal language is impossible to navigate without appropriate legal training) all while staying within the constraints of the court’s jurisdiction. Our legal team were also responsible for selecting an appropriate expert witness, who was approved by the Trust’s lawyers and the coroner. Both my husband and I are degree-educated but do not have the skills or expertise to do any of this. Whilst the coroner was very methodical and thorough, our legal team undeniably enabled significant questions regarding Adam’s treatment and care to be answered, and, although nothing can make up for the loss of our son, it has given us a degree of closure.
If the proposed FRC rules had been in place, and we had not been able to be represented by a solicitor, what was already an extremely harrowing and traumatic experience would have been made far, far worse. I do not think the Trust would have admitted their failings, which they only did just before the inquest, in the face of overwhelming evidence from the expert witness’s report that Adam’s treatment and care were inadequate. It also seems extremely unfair that the defendant, in this case, the hospital trust, would still be entitled to have their own skilled legal representation, funded by the taxpayer, while the family of the deceased would not have the financial means to be represented.
“We are deeply grateful that we did have proper legal representation, and passionately feel that this should continue to be available to other families finding themselves in a similar situation.”
Craig Knightley, Associate in Tees’ Clinical Negligence team, said:
“Over the last 10 years, I have built up a specialist practice in representing vulnerable clients and their families, particularly at inquest proceedings. My clients are often overlooked when attempting to access health care and statistically are more likely to receive poor care and treatment.
The government’s current proposals for Fixed Recoverable Costs, in my view, will simply add a further element of marginalisation to already vulnerable groups such as the elderly, those suffering from mental ill health and those with learning disabilities. The impact of FRC, I believe, will restrict access to justice for these groups and will have a detrimental impact on the lessons learned and improvements made to healthcare standards.”
What are Fixed Recoverable Costs (FRC)?
The government is seeking to implement a fixed costs regime in certain medical negligence cases, the most devastating impact of the proposals is likely to be for claims where damages are less than £25,000 – often this encompasses claims for the elderly, children, those with mental ill health and those with learning disabilities.
As the proposals are currently presented, few legal firms will be able to provide specialist legal services to these already vulnerable cohorts as the claims will not be economically viable to run. The Department of Health has admitted that the proposed reforms for the Lower Value Clinical Negligence Claims disproportionately impact people with disabilities, elderly and low paid.
What were the FRC changes in October 2023?
Fixed costs have already been implemented in claims valued £25,001 up to £100,000. The reforms provide for an Intermediate Track depending on several case specific factors, as well as providing Complexity Bands which are again case dependent. The new regime is subject to Judicial Review Proceedings, but these have been stayed. The Ministry of Justice have proposed to allow recovery of Inquest costs separately to Fixed Recoverable Costs for Intermediate Track cases. The government’s response is awaited and any changes to the rules clarifying this will not take place until 6 April 2024, at the earliest.
Chat to the Author, Craig Knightley
Associate, Medical Negligence, Chelmsford officeMeet Craig
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Chambers & Partners 2022
'Craig Knightley is adept at handling birth injury cases, as well as claims stemming from a failure to diagnose and treat serious conditions. He is diligent and always proactive'
'This claim, after my mothers untimely death, was very difficult for me, but with the kindness, patience and professionalism shown by Mr Knightly as he guided me through the process made it so much easier to navigate. He was always most helpful if I called over yet another query and the hard work to achieve a result I was happy with was carried out with the utmost care and consideration'