Following an admission of patient negligence, an offer to settle a dispute by a hospital trust is unable to be withdrawn because “the reasons for the decision were not disclosed” by the trust, according to a recent ruling by a High Court judge.
A settlement of £325,000 was initially offered by the Royal Wolverhampton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust after they failed to allow overnight admission to a patient who later went into a coma and suffered permanent brain injury following a fall. In accordance with the Civil Procedure rules, the claimant accepted the offer within 21 days. The claimant was not to know that on the 21st day, the defendant had issued an application for permission to withdraw their offer.
At the time, the claimant had not been served or otherwise given any notice of the application yet a judge’s permission was granted for the defendant’s offer to be withdrawn 14 days later.
In a subsequent high court hearing the presiding Queen’s Bench judge ruled that it was “wrong in principle” for the defendant to make its application without notice to the claimant and for the court to agree to accept the application. In his view, allowing the trust’s request in the circumstances described amounted to a “denial of justice.”
The hospital trust, which accepted it would have to disclose the reasons for withdrawing the offer then asked the court for an adjournment to give time until evidence could be disclosed.
In response to the request, the judge said it would be “unlawful and improper” for the court to receive evidence or argument from the defendant in support of a request for an adjournment without the claimant knowing the contents of that evidence and argument.
It was further ruled that either the defendant serve the evidence and disclose its arguments to justify withdrawing the original offer or judgment would be made in favour of the claimant.
Lawyers representing the patient, who is now permanently disabled, have said they will be suing the Trust, alleging that the injuries were caused by the failure of the hospital to assess and provide the necessary treatment following the fall.