‘Secondary victim’ of clinical negligence wins £150,000

Posted: 16th May 2013

SurgeryIn a unique settlement that makes clear that ‘secondary victims’ of negligence can also be compensated for their suffering, lawyers have secured a £150,000 pay-out for a widower who ‘drank himself into oblivion’ due to the trauma of witnessing his wife's final hours in hospital.

Thomas Dyer, 63, had to give permission for medics to switch off his wife Dorothy's life support machine after her gut was perforated during a routine procedure at Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital in December 2008. The family had expected Mrs Dyer home to join their family's celebrations but she rang on Christmas Eve to explain that she was having problems and would be ‘going back to theatre’.

On Christmas Day, Mr Dyer rushed to the hospital’s intensive care unit after his wife suffered a heart attack. Her condition had deteriorated so dramatically that his daughter, Joanne, collapsed at her mother's bedside. Mr Dyer went into shock and, a few hours later, was called upon to give permission for his wife’s life support to be switched off.

The trauma he suffered triggered a catastrophic chain of events in which Mr Dyer ‘turned to drink’ in the following months. He was unable to attend the inquest into his wife’s death or participate in her funeral and was habitually found ‘collapsed at various locations - including his wife's grave’.

In a ground-breaking claim, Mr Dyer’s legal team sought compensation on his behalf from Oxford University Hospital NHS Trust on the basis that his extreme reaction to his wife’s death was foreseeable and that he had suffered permanent brain damage as a result of ‘drinking himself into oblivion’. Mr Dyer, who subsequently beat his alcohol addiction after undergoing detoxification, will need supervision and support for the rest of his life.

The NHS Trust, whilst admitting liability in relation to Mrs Dyer's death, disputed her husband's right to damages as a ‘secondary victim’. However, it agreed to a £150,000 settlement of the widower’s claim. Approving the compromise, Mr Justice Glove said that he was aware of the human suffering that lay behind the case.

After the hearing, Joanne Dyer commented, "While it is a relief to have reached a conclusion to the legal process after more than four years, nothing can dilute our sense of loss over the needless death of our mother. The traumatic events have taken a huge toll on our family and we hope that this settlement allows us to start looking to the future again. We were told that my father wasn't entitled to compensation so we are grateful to our legal team for securing a settlement that recognises his pain and suffering."