What to do if your practice has suffered from poor professional advice
Claims against professional advisers, such as surveyors, solicitors, accountants and architects, are increasingly commonplace. David Morgan, a lawyer with healthcare specialist Cripps, outlines the options for GPs if things go wrong.
Specialist expertise from external advisers can help with the running and development of a GP practice. However, if you feel you haven’t received the correct advice, you may want to consider making a claim against your adviser.
On what grounds could a claim be made?
As their client, a professional owes you a duty of care. That duty is breached if their work falls below the standard expected from a competent member of their profession. If this causes you a financial loss, there may be grounds for a claim.
You may, for example, require a surveyor’s report on new premises for your surgery. If the surveyor misses a structural defect, which later proves costly to rectify, you may have a claim.
Similarly, you might have a claim against solicitors handling the purchase of a property for you if they fail to spot a planning restriction which impacts upon the intended use of that property.
However, professional negligence issues can arise whenever you rely on professional advice. A claim may not necessarily be restricted to the client of the professional, as in some circumstances the professional will also owe a duty of care to a third party.
How are claims dealt with?
Courts encourage parties to try to resolve a dispute before court proceedings are started, and claimants should follow guidelines known as the Professional Negligence Pre-Action Protocol. Failure to do so is likely to lead to costs penalties at a later stage.
Under the Protocol, a claimant must give the professional full details in a letter of claim. The professional may admit or deny liability, but often negotiations will follow as the parties work towards a settlement.
Other methods of dispute resolution – such as mediation – should also be considered but, if all else fails, the claimant may need to commence court proceedings. If these are required, a claimant must act within the appropriate limitation period. This is generally six years from the date of the negligent act, although there are exceptions such as where the negligence only comes to light at a later stage or a professional has deliberately concealed the negligence.
What should I do if I think there may be a claim?
As with any litigation, cost is an important factor. Some solicitors are prepared to act on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis. While this removes the need to pay legal fees as the claim progresses, there remains a risk that an unsuccessful claimant will have to pay the legal costs of the professional. It may be possible to obtain insurance to guard against this risk, and this should be considered.
Claims against professionals are often complex so if you think you have received negligent advice, it is advisable to instruct experts in the healthcare field.