The payment of massive damages to the victims of medical negligence has become a familiar story from the Four Courts in recent years. Earlier this month, for example, a disabled boy who suffered brain damage at birth was awarded €13.5 million.
What attracts less attention are the legal costs attached to such claims and the wider burden on society arising from escalating costs in these cases.
Private medical consultants, who have seen the cost of their indemnity cover increase by up to 60 per cent this year because more of them are being sued and bigger awards are being made, are intensely aware of the trend. Some, who were working privately as obstetricians, have already thrown in the towel.
The problem isn’t limited to private medicine. The State Claims Agency, which manages claims in the public sector and picks up the bill over agreed caps in the private sector, has also seen a rise in the cost of settlements.
The UK-based Medical Protection Society (MPS), which provides indemnity cover for most Irish consultants, says Irish legal costs are far higher than anywhere else in the western world.
The society, which is pressing for legal changes to limit the rising cost of medical negligence, has drawn up a report which contains many examples of what it claims is excess billing by lawyers.
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