Medical Negligence Explained

If you’ve received substandard care and suffered an injury as a result, then you may have been the victim of medical negligence. It’s a term that’s often bandied-about, but it’s not all that well understood. When does care qualify as substandard, and by what criteria do we make the distinction? What kind of injury are we talking about.

Let’s shed some light on the matter.

Medical negligence tends to be a complicated area of law, thanks to the sheer variety of cases on offer. There are thousands upon thousands of medical conditions to suffer from, and no two people suffer in exactly the same way. What’s more, the process is different depending on whether you’re acting against the NHS or against a private practitioner.

The Four Ds

A successful outcome in a medical negligence case depends on the four Ds.

Duty of Care

When you submit yourself to a medical practitioner, they have what’s called a legal duty of care to look after your best interests. If anything they do (of fail to do) leads to your coming to harm, then they have failed in that duty. You can prove that a duty of care existed by providing documents which proved that you were being treated by the practitioner in question.

Dereliction of Duty

If the quality of care falls below the required standard, then the practice as a whole is in dereliction of duty. This might be a misdiagnosis, or a botched surgery, or it might be an infection that’s been contracted as a result of substandard cleaning procedures.

Direct Cause

It’s not enough to prove that you were owed a duty of care, which was subsequently violated. The patient has to have been tangibly harmed in order for medical negligence to have taken place. Part of the purpose of civil litigation is to restore the parties to the state that they were before the harm took place. If no harm took place, then this can’t be done. Some kinds of harm can be more difficult to evidence than others. You might need the opinion of a second medical practitioner to make your case. This is where specialist medical negligence solicitors can prove extremely handy: they’re able to bring in the right expert witnesses.


Restoring the parties to their prior state often means awarding damages. This involves putting a figure on the effects of the negligence, and awarding the sum to the injured party. Where a financial loss has occurred, this is easy. Where the loss is physical or psychological, it’s more difficult. Damages are based on guidelines set out by the Judicial College – your solicitor should be able to apprise you of the likely outcome.

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