Wednesday, 7 September 2022

What is medical negligence?

Healthcare professionals owe you as a patient a duty of care. This means they have to carry out their work to a certain standard. Most healthcare professionals act diligently and competently. However, mistakes can happen, and these mistakes can be negligent.

If a healthcare professional negligently makes an error that causes you harm or injury, you may be entitled to compensation for their negligence. The general law surrounding negligence is outlined in the Civil Law (Wrongs) Act 2002 (ACT). To have a successful claim in medical negligence you would have to prove that the conduct of the healthcare professional was negligent and this negligence caused the injury, loss or damage you are suffering.

Examples of medical negligence may include:

  • A failure or delay in diagnosing a condition;
  • A failure or delay in providing appropriate treatment or referral for a condition;
  • A failure to perform surgery at an appropriate level of skill; and
  • A failure to correctly report on test results.

Due to its specialist nature, the law relating to medical negligence is complex and requires significant investigations and expert medical opinion. You should seek the advice of a lawyer before pursuing such a claim.

Time limits

Medical negligence claims have strict time limits, outlined in the Limitations Act 1985 (ACT). Generally, a claim in medical negligence must be bought within three years of the injury claimed occurring. For diseases and disorders that do not show symptoms immediately, you have three years from the date you become aware of the injury and its origin. Outside of this limitation period, you will generally be unable to bring a claim, so it is vitally important that you act quickly if you suspect you have suffered from medical negligence.

There is an additional requirement that you must send a written notice to the people or organisations that you are making the claim against to inform them that you intend to pursue proceedings. Time limits also apply to the sending of these notices.

Finding help

Before pursuing a claim in medical negligence, you should speak to a lawyer. Many firms that specialise in medical negligence claims offer their services on a ‘no win no fee’ basis, which means that you can seek an initial consultation as to prospects without cost.

The Law Society can help you find a private lawyer or refer you to pro bono services that can assist with your matter. Please note that the ACT Law Society’s Pro Bono Clearing House will not accept medical negligence applicants.

  • Online search: Find a law firm (select 'Medical negligence' from 'Areas of practice')
  • Online search: Find a lawyer
  • Call the Law Society on 02 6274 0300 and we can put you in touch with a lawyer or a firm who can help you
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