Despite the legal profession's attempts to publicise the services they can provide, some negligence victims still suffer in silence, often for years, in the false belief that they cannot afford to sue. That point was powerfully made by one case in which a seven-figure settlement of a woman's claim against the NHS was achieved more than 20 years after she suffered a devastating brain haemorrhage.
After the woman suffered acute headaches, she visited a hospital A&E department twice in the days before Christmas 1996. She was almost certainly suffering from a subarachnoid haemorrhage, but her condition was not diagnosed. Shortly after the festive season, she suffered a second haemorrhage that caused severe brain damage. She was left seriously physically disabled and with an extremely poor short-term memory.
Her husband and children soldiered on for years, caring for her selflessly, in the belief that it would cost them money they could ill afford to take legal action against the NHS trust that ran the hospital. They belatedly contacted solicitors in 2012 and the trust eventually admitted liability. Following negotiations, the trust agreed to pay £2.75 million in compensation and the woman's legal costs. The facts of the case emerged as the High Court approved the settlement.
The normal time limit for bringing a personal injury claim is three years from the date of injury or from the date on which the claimant first had knowledge that the injury was significant and was wholly or partly attributable to the negligent actions or failure to act of the defendant. However, where someone is under a disability – i.e. lacks capacity as defined by the Mental Capacity Act 2005 – no time limit will start to run unless the person becomes mentally able to manage their own affairs.