Psychiatric injury in Medical Negligence claims

In many cases of clinical negligence, the injuries are not always visible to the eye or detectable by clinical scans and tests.

After the shock, trauma and pain of physical injury or disease as a result of clinical negligence, it is not uncommon for patients to develop psychiatric injuries, such as depression, anxiety or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Such conditions can often be debilitating, in some cases more so than the physical injury or disease itself. The effects can be life changing and the severity of psychiatric injuries should not be underestimated.

It is of great importance to identify and recognise where psychiatric injury may have occurred because, if left untreated, the effects of such an injury can be significant. It is important that the sufferer receives a correct diagnosis and that appropriate treatment is sought.  Often the appropriate treatment, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, is more readily available in the private sector and is often expensive, putting it beyond the reach of many people that would otherwise benefit from treatment. However, if a person who has suffered a physical injury has also suffered a psychiatric injury, appropriate compensation can be sought to compensate them for their pain and suffering and, perhaps more importantly, to ensure that any future necessary treatment can be paid for.

In many cases, victims of clinical negligence do not necessarily realise that they have suffered a psychiatric injury. It is, therefore, important that your clinical negligence solicitor is alive to the possibility of psychiatric injury and that, in cases where it may be relevant, they deal with the issue with sensitivity and professionalism.

One might assume that psychiatric injury claims can only be made by those individuals who have suffered physical harm. This is not the case. The law does allow for psychiatric injury claims to be made by ‘secondary victims’, i.e. those that may have witnessed a shocking and traumatic event involving a loved one (primary victim), but have not themselves suffered physical harm. This particular area of law is one that is often misunderstood because the law only allows claims of this sort in very limited circumstances In order to qualify for such a claim, a Claimant must satisfy a very specific set of factors. The case law is too extensive to set out in detail in this article, but the key requirements may be summarised as follows:

  • The secondary victim must have sufficient ‘ties of love and affection’ with the primary victim (in practice this usually means close family members). 
  • The secondary victim must have been within sufficient proximity of the ‘shocking event’ in terms of both space and time. 
  • The injury occurring to the primary victim must have been sufficiently ‘sudden’ and ‘shocking’. 

These are difficult claims but it is important that your solicitor is alive to the possibility that such a claim may be available to you. 

In both of these types of case it is important that the individual concerned is assessed by an expert to ensure that an accurate diagnosis is made, the long term prognosis is considered and a suitable means of treatment is recommended. In most cases this will involve the client meeting with a Consultant Psychiatrist in a quiet and professional setting, where a full assessment can take place.

At Tees Law, our Medical Negligence team often deal with cases involving individuals who have suffered some degree of psychiatric harm as a result of negligent treatment. We have experience of dealing successfully with both primary and secondary victim claims.

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