Justice and accountability is coming a step closer for those who suffer the consequence of medical negligence in the Caribbean. In the early 1980s in the UK, lawyers interested in bringing claims against the medical profession began the long struggle against medical defence unions and the NHS whose financial strength and backing by the profession made advancing claims almost hopeless.
Getting doctors to give evidence against other doctors who had failed to meet proper professional standards was all but impossible. The few doctors who were prepared to help claimants were ostracised by their colleagues. In smaller jurisdictions such as Mauritius, Trinidad & Tobago, Cayman Islands, the Isle of Man, The States of Jersey, in all of which I have worked as a medical negligence QC, the difficulties are greater and claims for professional negligence are very difficult to advance. In consequence there is often a sense of immunity amongst the doctors and healthcare providers in countries where there is little or no accountability for negligence. Thus unacceptable standards flourish leading to still more patients suffering injury without compensation or redress.
A courageous attorney-at-law, Ricardo Williams of Virtus Chambers in Port of Spain, by specializing in medical negligence claims is beginning to tum the tables on the bastions of the medical profession in the Caribbean. I am a member of the Bar of Trinidad and Tobago and I have been privileged to be instructed in a number of his cases. In January 2013 we achieved justice for a boy who suffered cerebral palsy as a consequence of obstetric negligence. The claim was based upon future care and residence in the US and the award agreed ( which is confidential) is believed to be the highest achieved in the jurisdiction of Trinidad and Tobago. In 2020 we achieved a large settlement for a professional man who was rendered paraplegic as a consequence of a delayed failure to treat an epidural abscess.
Common Law Jurisdictions
Each jurisdiction has its own experience, learning and procedural rules, but where the common law procedural and evidential approach is used to elicit the facts by oral examination and cross examination and expert opinions can be rigorously tested by the same process, an English medical negligence QC has a considerable advantage. As a barrister, I am obliged to take instructions to act for any party in an area in which I practise. I cannot be partisan. However, it is more often than not the case that I act for claimants/plaintiffs than for defendants. Since Covid-19, I have been conducting trials by Microsoft Teams and have written a paper on this experience: The Virtual Medical Negligence Trial.
It makes sense for local attorneys/barristers to be instructed for they are most conversant with local practices, but a team led by a specialist in medical negligence offers in my opinion the best combination and the greatest chance of success. Defence teams realise this too, often instructing an English medical negligence QC to protect the defendant doctor, private clinic or state health service.