HPPB Blog

Don’t let an inquest become your trial

It could be said that that it is inevitable that a doctor practicing for any length of time will have to deal with participating in an inquest.

As you will know, the purpose of an inquest is to establish the identity of the deceased, the cause, time and location of death. Inquests are only held if the cause of death raises concern about whether it was natural or not. In practical terms, if death was not a result of natural disease processes or old age.

If someone dies whilst under state control, an inquest is mandatory.

We have assisted a client recently who was called to provide witness evidence. There is no question about the fullest cooperation being given to the Coroner’s office; the concern arises as to whether any evidence provided to the investigation could be used to pursue a claim against the doctor by the estate.

So, what is to be done? Well, the decision that needs to be made at the inquest stage is whether a precautionary report to insurers is required. A typical reporting condition is as follows:

"The Insured shall give immediate written notice (but in any event no later than 45 days after the Insured first became aware of such Claim, or Circumstance) to the Insurer of any Claim first made against the Insured (or any specific event or Circumstance that in the opinion of the Insured may give rise to a Claim made against the Insured) and which forms the subject of indemnity under this Policy. Every Claim, writ, summons or process and all documents relating to the Claim, event or Circumstance shall be forwarded to the Insurer immediately they are received by the Insured."

The risk is with you as the doctor. You will need to decide whether the circumstances may give rise to a claim. Crystal ball gazing? Perhaps, but the stakes can be high.

The mechanics are as follows; you attend the inquest, tell the Coroner what you know, are criticised in some way during the evidence or the dialogue around the verdict, which is ceased upon by Solicitors for the family, who then sue you...

A further twist, is you should have reported to insurers before the inquest so they cannot say you are in breach of the reporting condition in the policy.

We routinely advise clients on reporting of circumstances and we give guidance to clear away the mist… We are always happy to discuss and advise clients and those with concerns alike.

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