It’s a normal working day, or so you think! Seemingly out of the blue you receive a request from the police for a coronial statement. These can be requested at any time following the death of your patient. It could be within weeks of the death, or years afterwards.
Suddenly your stress and anxiety levels start to rise. It has been years since the death and you struggle to even recall the patient to whom the request relates.
A good first step is to call MIGA. We receive many calls from our members about coronial matters and understand that being involved in any legal matter can be very stressful, especially where your professional competence and reputation may be called into question.
When you call us we will take an understanding and supportive approach, meaning that our aims are twofold:
- To gather information from you so that we can understand the situation, your perspective and gauge how you are feeling, and
- Support you by providing advice relevant to your particular situation, help you manage the immediate priorities, map out the next steps and possible outcomes and reassure you that the situation is in hand.
Back to the request for the Coronial statement
Your immediate first thought might be, ‘how do I write this statement?’ When you speak with one of our claim solicitors they will seek to ascertain the nature of the request and any information you may have about the patient in question. We will guide you through the preparation of the statement, liaising with the police when necessary, obtaining the medical records and reviewing your drafts. At this initial stage it is vital that the statement is correct and we will be working with you to achieve that outcome. In the majority of Coronial matters that may be the end of your involvement in the matter.
Unfortunately, in your case the matter progresses and you subsequently receive a request from the Coroner to attend an Inquest at which you are required to give evidence. You gave your coronial statement 3 years ago and the death was years prior to that!
You call MIGA for assistance and our claim solicitor swings into action
After reviewing the request from the coroner and the actions taken 3 years prior, we will brief one of our expert panel solicitors to assist you. Prior to the Inquest, you and your legal team (your MIGA claim solicitor and the external panel solicitor) will put in a significant amount of work preparing for the Inquest. This will involve you meeting with your legal team, obtaining the coroners brief of evidence, reviewing any expert reports the coroner has obtained, seeking our own expert report(s) in response when needed and briefing counsel. You will be actively involved and guided step-by-step throughout the process.
These situations can be incredibly stressful, but your legal team understand this and will put in as much time as is needed to prepare you for giving evidence so you can feel as comfortable as possible. This will involve meeting you to go through your statement, dissecting any expert report obtained by the coroner and any reports we have obtained in response, to assist in the preparation of your evidence.
You will receive notice of a time to attend the Coroner’s Court to give evidence and on the day of giving evidence you will meet with the claim solicitor, panel solicitor and counsel before the hearing. Court proceedings can be unpredictable and for a variety of reasons the timing of giving your evidence may change. You may find it comforting to have your claim solicitor wait with you until being called in and we are very happy to support you in this way.
Some coronial matters attract the attention of the media. This can be challenging and confronting. When there is media interest we will advise you on how to deal with them when they are waiting outside the court. Our insurance policy also includes cover to meet the cost of engaging a public relations consultant to help you manage your public profile, should that be necessary.
Noting that these matters can be stressful in their own right, when they are combined with the pressure of your normal daily practice, they can become overwhelming. Your health and well-being throughout the proceedings is extremely important. Where this becomes a concern, we can also offer you access to our Practitioners’ Support Service which provides peer and professional support, giving you someone to talk to who has ‘walked in your shoes’ or who can provide coping strategies to help you through the situation. Where you access this service MIGA meets the cost of professional fees (up to $5,000).
Unfortunately, we can’t take away all the stress and anxiety, but many doctors comment after giving evidence that the assistance they received from MIGA made the entire process easier to bear than it might have otherwise been.
This is a valuable service MIGA provides as part of your insurance to protect and support you. So if you find yourself in need of help, call us early. We are here for you.