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Awards for handicapped children
  1. Patrick Hoyte
  1. Deputy Head of Medical Advisory Services, Medical Defence Union, 192 Altrincham Road, Manchester M22 4RZ, UK
  1. Dr Hoyte.

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When an individual has been injured by the negligence of another, “English law regards compensation as the appropriate expression of a moral principle”1—an attempt by the imperfect medium of money to restore the victim as far as possible to the position that he or she would have been in, but for the harm suffered as the result of the original negligence.

This axiom applies in all personal injury cases, whether the negligence was that of a driver of a vehicle, an employer, a medical practitioner, or some other person.

General damages

In cases where the injuries are relatively minor and there are no lasting consequences, any financial award will be relatively low, and general damages for what the law calls “pain, suffering and loss of amenity” will make up a large proportion of the total. Around half of all medical negligence cases fall into this category, settlements for amounts less than £7500 for problems as diverse as retained foreign bodies in wounds, allergic reactions to wrongly given drugs, and (sadly) most perinatal deaths.2

When the injury has been more significant and the patient left with long term disabilities, this basic compensation will obviously be set at a much higher level. The current conventional ceiling for general damages in personal injury cases is around £135 000, the sort of figure that might well apply to a baby or child with severe brain damage secondary to birth trauma, meningitis or a head injury.

Special damages

The extent of compensation has to be taken a great deal further by the addition of special damages—amounts accurately gauged to reflect particular eventualities, aspects of future care, and a careful assessment of life expectancy. Under Section 2 (4) of the Law Reform (Personal Injuries) Act 1948, the courts are not permitted to consider the range of NHS and …

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