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News1992October › A court of last resort › October 1992

A court of last resort

The medical profession fears that the number of cases brought against GPs could dramatically increase if contingency fees for solicitors the "no win, no fee" arrangement are introduced

The medical profession fears that the number of cases brought against GPs could dramatically increase if contingency fees for solicitors the "no win, no fee" arrangement are introduced.

Contingency fees are being considered by the Law Society at the moment. If introduced, solicitors would take on cases on the understanding that they would be paid a proportion of any financial award. No payment would be made if the case was lost.Mr David Bolt, chairman of the BMA's working party on no fault compensation, has warned that contingency fees would encourage the "opportunistic" cases seen in the US. "It will lead to an increase in those bringing cases simply to make some money," he said.

The Law Society will debate contingency fees internally before bringing a proposal before its council in December. The law would have to be changed before contingency fees could be introduced.

While we do not advocate American style ambulance chasing , a litigious climate may ultimately benefit ordinary patients like you and me.

For one thing, it may cause NHS hospitals to clean up their practices, which might lessen the number of cases of negligence caused by juniors placed in charge of emergency services after only a few hours' experience (and often only a few hours' sleep). It may also mean a drop in the number of cases like this month's case study, of a woman who got progressively worse while doctors kept changing their mind about her diagnosis until she was too frail to survive the operation that might have saved her life. In other words, the everpresent threat of litigation could mean the institutions of medicine are finally subject to quality control. It could help to end the two tier system of medicine since NHS patients will have the same resources as private patients to sue.

It could also mean that drug companies will be forced to provide patients (and not just doctors) detailed information about side effects

Contingency lawyering could mean that you are offered more just in case medicine so that the doctor covers himself just in case you sue. But for the most part, we view it as a silent deterrent a large, effective court of last resort to prevent hospitals and drug companies and even some doctors from getting away with murder.


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