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Understanding Hospital Inquests
A hospital inquest can help to determine the circumstances of a person's death. If you believe that someone you know has died because of failings in the care provided to them before they died, the outcome of an inquest can play an important role in any claim for compensation based on medical negligence.
The family of the person who has died is entitled to have legal representation at an inquest. At JMW, we have considerable experience of providing representation and advice for families involved in the inquest process. To find out more about how we can help you and your family today, call us on 0800 054 6512 or complete our online enquiry form, which will enable us to give you a call back.
An inquest is a court hearing in front of a coroner - and sometimes also a jury - held in certain circumstances after a person has died. The inquest must establish the answers to four questions:
- who the person was
- when and where they died
- the medical cause of their death
- how the events leading to their death played out
An inquest must be held in cases of death where:
- the death was violent or unnatural
- the person who died was in state detention, including those in prison or people detained for mental health reasons
- the cause of death is still uncertain after a post-mortem
Coroners will also often hold an inquest if somebody dies within 24 hours of being admitted to hospital or undergoing surgery, or if there is a possibility that medical care in hospital has caused or contributed to their death.
Evidence can be requested from those responsible for the patient’s care in the period leading up to their death, as well as family members and carers. Written statements may be prepared and witnesses may also be called for questioning in court.
The coroner and/or jury will consider all the evidence and will also take into account the patient’s medical records, history and the circumstances in which they died before reaching their conclusion. As the hearing is a legal process and is held in a public court, any witnesses who give evidence must do so under oath, which means they are under a legal obligation to tell the truth.
An inquest is essentially a fact-finding exercise, and it is not the coroner’s role to apportion blame or make findings of fault or negligence. However, the coroner will often investigate the care provided and if it appears there were failures or errors that may have caused the death, these findings will be considered as part of the verdict.
What conclusions are reached in hospital inquests?
There are a number of potential conclusions that can be reached by the coroner at the conclusion of the inquest. In some cases, the coroner will use one of the more traditional, ‘short-form’ conclusions, which include the following:
- Natural causes
- Open verdict - where no definite cause can be determined
- Unlawful killing - an inquest cannot accuse a named person of any criminal liability, and this verdict is used when a criminal investigation has been concluded by the police
The coroner is also able to conclude that a death has been caused or contributed to by neglect. In the case of a hospital inquest, this usually involves a very serious failure by healthcare professionals to provide effective basic care that could have prevented the death.
In recent years, coroners have started to use longer, more detailed conclusions to summarise the circumstances in which someone died. These are called narrative conclusions, and provide a more detailed explanation of the circumstances surrounding the death than the traditional short-form verdicts above.
Legal action to obtain compensation for clinical negligence is a highly specialist area of the law, so the need to have an experienced and specialist trained solicitor is crucial. Our solicitors have dealt with many erroneous and late cancer diagnosis claims over the years, and we have become experts in this field of medical negligence law, often recovering considerable compensation for our clients.
We are able to deal with claims using a no win, no fee scheme in appropriate cases. We offer a free advice session either personally or on the telephone and, if after talking to us you decide not to take matters further, you are under no obligation to do so and you will not be charged for our initial advice session.
The clinical negligence team at JMW includes members of both the Law Society's specialist panel for clinical negligence and the Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) solicitors panel. Headed by Eddie Jones, the team is among the most respected in the UK.