The Court of Appeal has thrown out a claim of negligence against a firm that told the parents of a child who died at the age of 11 they did not have a viable claim for clinical negligence.
The parents had approached national firm Veale Wasbrough after Bethany Chinnock-Schumann was born in 1998 with a rare condition which left her in constant pain. Her mother, Jo Chinnock, wanted to make a claim against Liverpool Women’s Hospital for reporting that pre-birth scans had shown no abnormalities.
The parents were ‘extremely surprised and disappointed’ to be told by the firm’s partner that the claim could not succeed on liability.
Chinnock was advised to seek alternative legal advice if she was dissatisfied but told if she went ahead and served the claim form she would incur a ‘very big risk’ of having to pay the NHS trust’s costs.
After the parents went through a divorce, Bethany’s father was told by his new solicitors that the pair had received bad advice and they began a professional negligence claim against Veale Wasbrough. A previous judgment found in favour of the law firm, but the mother opted for a challenge which was heard in the Court of Appeal in March.
Lord Justice Jackson (pictured) has now ruled in Chinnock v Wasbrough & Anor that the firm acted correctly during a conference on the merits of the clinical negligence case.
The claimant’s criticism that two medical experts attended the conference by telephone was rejected, as Jackson said they did ‘not need to be in the same room’. The non-attendance of an expert radiologist was accepted as he had filed a written report and ‘no further elaboration was required’.
A letter sent three days after the conference by the law firm was ‘undoubtedly robust’, according to Jackson, but entirely in line with counsel’s advice.
He added: ‘It is frequently the duty of lawyers to give unwelcome advice to their clients. If they conclude that a claim or a defence has no real prospect of success, it is their duty to say so bluntly.’
In addition to clearing the firm of negligence, Jackson also dismissed an appeal relating to the conduct of Karen Rea, a barrister instructed by Veale Wasbrough. Jackson noted that Rea’s advice was ‘unquestionably correct’.