Difference between a breach of duty and causation

Written by
Piarais Neary on
28 July 2021

When the medical negligence team at HOMS Assist are assessing a client’s case, we try to get the client to understand the principals of negligence and causation.  

When a patient receives treatment in a hospital, the treatment can be negligent in nature and a breach of duty may arise. However, the outcome for the patient may not have been altered by the negligent treatment. The outcome for the client in terms of recovery will have been the same.  

For a client to establish a successful case in medical negligence, the client must establish that negligence has arisen, that they have suffered as a result and that negligent treatment has altered the recovery for the client.  

To demonstrate this, it is easier to look at a recent case that we declined.  

We received instructions from a young man aged eighteen who had been treated at a hospital in Dublin. He sustained a fracture to his right index finger after receiving a kick during a football match. On arrival at the hospital the finger was x-rayed, and no fracture was identified. Our client’s fingers were strapped, and he was informed that the finger would recover within two weeks. There was no follow-up appointment given for review by orthopaedics.  

Within a period of eighteen months, he continued to experience pain and swelling in the finger. His finger ached when he was writing in college and interfered with his performance at school and in examinations.  

He consulted his local G.P. who referred him for a further x-ray which demonstrated previous signs of a fracture. This fracture resulted from the kick at the football ground.

We instructed an expert in the UK to review our client’s medical records. The expert confirmed that when our client initially attended the hospital following the football incident, the treating clinician failed to record that he had sustained a fracture. 

Our expert was of the view that the emergency department and the reporting radiologist, failed to identify the fracture on the x-ray taken immediately after the incident and that this fell below a reasonable standard of care.  

Furthermore, the lack of advice to follow up if persistent symptoms arose also fell below a reasonable standard of care. However, although the injury was not correctly diagnosed, the treatment would been the same if had it been correctly diagnosed so therefore causation did not arise. The treatment of strapping the finger in the hospital would have been the same if a fracture had been identified initially.  

In respect of the lack of follow-up, the expert was of the view that although the follow-up was not conducted, persisting symptoms like pain, swelling and weakness would not have been avoided even if follow-up had been conducted and therefore causation did not follow.  

If you suspect that there has been a deficiencies in your medical treatment, or of that of a loved one, it is important to get legal advice from specialist solicitors who understand the medical negligence claims. 

We have over 50 years expert legal experience advising such patients. 

Need assistance? Contact us. 

We provide expert advice when you need it most.  
Call us today on 1800 207 207 or contact us online