Cause and Effect – What is Required in a Medical Negligence Claim


To have a successful medical negligence claim you need to prove 2 separate things:

  1. That a medical professional failed in their responsibilities (breach of duty), and
  2. That this resulted in harm to you or your loved one (causation)

Delay in Diagnosis

Breach of Duty

A medical professional has what's called a 'duty of care' towards their patients. This duty is breached if the quality of the treatment you received fell below the standard which should be reasonably expected. This is where the term medical negligence comes from. The doctor doesn't have to deliberately provide you with a bad service, but they can be irresponsible, or careless, or even reckless.

A misdiagnosis can have a catastrophic result on a patient. If they have a life threatening illness, every moment and every opportunity to identify it matters. However even a delay in diagnosing a non-life threatening condition, such as a fractured ankle, can have serious long-term complications for the patient.

If the diagnosis is correct and no delays have occurred then there is also the chance that the treatment or medications provided may be wrong, or any necessary procedures were performed in a substandard manner.

Another common example of a breach of duty is where clinicians fail to obtain the informed consent of their patients to the treatment they are recommending. This can result in patients taking drugs or undergoing surgeries without any idea of the serious complications associated with them. Being given the wrong treatment or medication is considered a 'never event' in the medical profession.

This means that it should never happen, but unfortunately, sometimes it does.


In order to succeed in a claim for medical negligence, it is not enough simply to show that a breach of duty has occurred. It is also necessary to show that this breach of duty has had what is known as a 'causative effect' upon the outcome for the patient.

Essentially this means that the patient needs to show that the alleged breach of duty has caused them harm in some way.

This issue can often be the focus of a significant amount of legal arguments between both sides as the other side might try to argue that you didn't suffer any harm as a result of their negligence. They may also argue that any harm you did suffer was related to the illness or injury you came to them with in the first place.

Time Limits

There's a 3 year time limit for a claim, this runs from the date of the incident, but there are exceptions:

  • If you weren't immediately aware of the negligence that took place, the 3 year time limit begins as soon as you become aware of the negligence
  • If the person who has been harmed is under 18, the time limit begins when they turn 18
  • If an injured person suffers from a temporary mental disability then time does not start until mental capacity has returned

Because these time limits are strict, and don't consider any time needed to prepare a claim it is important to act quickly and get some initial advice.

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