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Legal 500

Medical Negligence Inquests

If a loved one has died because of suspected medical negligence it is likely that a Coroner will open an Inquest to investigate how they died.  At this difficult time you need a team of leading solicitors with specialist experience in Inquests and Fatal Accidents claims for compensation to properly represent your interests.

What is an Inquest?

An Inquest is a local Court Hearing that takes place to investigate how someone has died.  A Coroner, who leads the Inquest investigation, will only start an investigation into someone’s death if that person has died because of:

  • A violent or unnatural death;
  • An unknown cause
  • Or whilst they were in State Detention or Custody. 

When is an Inquest required for Medical Negligence?

Sub-standard medical care can sometimes result in a patient’s death.  If this happens, the local Coroner is likely to be contacted and if the circumstances of the death fall into one of the three categories above an Inquest will be opened.

For example, if following childbirth, a previously fit and healthy mother dies it is likely that a Coroner would investigate how this happened.  Similarly, if someone made a call to NHS 111 or 999 complaining of serve chest pain, but no ambulance is sent and they suffer a fatal heart attack, a Coroner would likely want to know why an ambulance was not sent to help or what happened to it. 

Inquests are often a very helpful starting point for medical negligence claims for compensation.  Read our dedicated guide on Fatal Accident Claims. 

What is the purpose of an Inquest?

The Coroner’s role is to direct his investigation to find out:

  • Who the deceased was?
  • Where they died?
  • When they died?
  • How they died?

The last question, how they died, is very important, particularly for any civil Fatal Accident claim for compensation.  To succeed with a Fatal Accident claim it will be necessary to prove that sub-standard medical care (or breach of duty) caused or led to a person’s death (causation); in other words, their death would have been avoided with a reasonable standard of medical care. 

A Coroner will be interested in this but he is not usually able to comment specifically on these legal tests and he is certainly not meant to criticise healthcare professionals or Hospitals because unlike the adversarial civil litigation process the Inquest process is Inquisitorial and does attribute blame.

Read our dedicated guide on Fatal Accident Claims

How we can help you?

The death of a loved one is devastating but if their death was caused by someone else’s fault the experience is even more upsetting.  Minton Morrill solicitors have a full service team available to help guide you through this difficult time. 

Inquest

If your loved one’s death occurred as a result of suspected poor medical treatment, our legal teams may well be able to help you with the Inquest process. 

Minton Morrill’s team specialises in Inquests involving medical negligence and we have extensive experience pursuing compensation claims following Inquests. 

Civil Claim

Our team of Civil lawyers will advise you before or after the Inquest whether it is likely that a claim for compensation can be pursued as a result of your loved one’s death.  If you can prove that the death was caused by the negligence of someone else it is likely that compensation will be recovered.  The Inquest process may provide further evidence to help with a civil claim for compensation under the Fatal Accidents Act and the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act which is why it is helpful to speak to us and our Inquest team early on.

Our Fatal Claim solicitors are vastly experienced in these sensitive claims.  Guy Pomphrey, for example, worked extensively on another high profile Fatal Claim stemming from the death of Mrs Frances Cappuccini at Pembury Hospital in 2012.  This case involved an Inquest, criminal investigation and trial for both gross negligence manslaughter (against Mrs Cappuccini’s treating doctors) and corporate manslaughter  (against the Hospital Trust) as well as a successful civil Fatal claim for compensation.  Guy’s blogs on this case can be accessed here

Our team of lawyers have a track record of securing the maximum level of compensation for families and dependents stemming from a loved one’s death. 

Read our dedicated guide on Fatal Accident Claims.

What happens before an Inquest?

If a Coroner opens an investigation into an individual’s death they will liaise with that person’s family (or solicitors, if instructed); the healthcare professionals involved and, potentially, the Police. A post-mortem report will be prepared following an autopsy which may help the Coroner with the cause of death.

The Coroner will likely invite written submissions from the family, typically prepared by specialist lawyers, on the key issues they should address at the Inquest including, specifically, whether they need to obtain any independent expert medical evidence to help determine how the death occurred and, crucially, whether the Human Rights Act obligations under Article 2 are engaged.

Following written submissions, a Pre-Inquest Review will likely be heard before the Coroner at the Coroner’s Court.  This Pre-Inquest Review will address any outstanding issues and give the Deceased’s family and the Defendant Hospital Trust the opportunity of submitting their verbal view on the issues.  These issues could include, for example:

  • Who should be called to give witness evidence?
  • Whether independent expert evidence is required to assist the Coroner reach Conclusions about how the Deceased died and, if so, the disciplines.
  • Whether a Jury are required for the Inquest?
  • The length of the Inquest.
  • Whether Article 2 of the Human Rights Act is engaged?

What is Article 2?

Article 2 of the Human Rights Act is the right to life. 

The European Convention on Human Rights, incorporated into law by the Human Rights Act (1998), imposes positive obligations on the state to protect its citizens’ rights, including, fundamentally, the right to life, under Article 2.  

What is an Article 2 Inquest?

An Article 2 Inquest allows the Coroner to investigate someone’s death in more detail than a “normal” Inquest and to ask more questions to determine not only how the Deceased died but also, in addition, in what circumstances they died. 

When is Article 2 engaged?

When the state or its bodies or organisations, such as Hospitals, are involved in an individual’s death, Article 2 is likely to be engaged if the Coroner agrees that there was a failure to adequately protect against the risk of death where it was known or ought to be known that there was a real and immediate risk of death. 

Employing a doctor without the requisite medical qualifications would be a more obvious example of Article 2 becoming engaged but there is a wide range of different and potentially complex scenarios where Article 2 might be engaged. 

Article 2 Inquests should enable the Coroner and the Deceased’s family to ask wider reaching questions to find out how the death happened and in what circumstances.  Defendant Hospital trusts may try to resist Article 2 Inquests to limit the scope of the Coroner’s Inquest given that this may leave them open to public criticism and scrutiny as well as laying the foundations for Fatal Claims for compensation.  .

What happens at the Inquest?

The family and other interested persons will attend the Coroner’s Court, which looks like a typical Court-room, with the Coroner sitting at the front of the room.

The Coroner will then investigate the cause of someone’s death with the help of the family, their legal advocates (sometimes including specialist barristers) and independent medical experts that the Coroner might have instructed to provide their opinion on how the death was caused.   The Coroner and advocates are usually allowed to ask questions of these experts to help understand the death. 

What types of conclusions can a Coroner make?

At the end of the Inquest, the Coroner gives their view, known as a Conclusion. Visit our specialist page explaining what these are. 

Are Inquest findings public?

Yes, the Inquest is a public process and the Conclusions are made public.

Can Inquests help with Medical Negligence Claims?

Yes, although a Coroner will rarely specifically address the tests for medical negligence claims (breach of duty and causation) it is likely that their Conclusions and the independent expert medical evidence provided during the Inquest will be useful to at the very least help assess the prospects of success of any subsequent Fatal Accident claim for compensation stemming from a death.  In some Fatal Accident cases, expert evidence provided at the Inquest has, in fact, been strong enough that the Defendant then makes an admission of civil liability. 

Read our dedicated guide on Fatal Accident Claims.

Who pays for the legal representation at the Inquest?

Where someone dies as a result of suspected medical negligence and our expert solicitors in the medical negligence team think that there are strong prospects of pursuing a successful Fatal Accidents claim for compensation, we may be able to offer the Claimant family a No Win No Fee Agreement that will cover the cost of Inquest representation as well as subsequent Fatal Accidents claim legal advice.

It is important to speak with our specialist teams as soon as possible about this so that this opportunity is not lost.  If the prospects of success for a Fatal Accidents claim are unknown or uncertain, there are a variety of other ways to fund specialist Inquest legal representation at Inquest.   .

If you, or someone you know, has lost a loved one and need professional advice and guidance about an Inquest and/or Fatal Accident claims for compensation contact Minton Morrill’s specialist teams today on 0113 245 8549 or alternatively complete the Ask Us a Question of Get in Touch forms today.