Emergency services failed to attend to a 999 call before Sudden Death in Epilepsy

Stephanie Prior

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Stephanie Prior acted for J, who was a dependent of C his partner. C suffered from epileptic seizures as a child and was on long-term medication for her epilepsy. She was under the care of a Consultant Neurologist and had been for many years.

In early 2013 , C who was 29 years old, suffered a tonic/clonic seizure while in bed. Her partner dialled 999 and explained to an operator what had happened. He was left in no doubt an ambulance was being sent. He then received a call from the ambulance service 13 minutes after the first call and J was told to telephone C’s GP as no ambulance was dispatched.

Her partner telephoned the GP to no avail and so he called 999 again as C had still not recovered. He asked that an ambulance be sent straight away.

The 999 call was incorrectly triaged and J was told to telephone C’s GP for the out of hour’s service. J did this but he was connected to a recorded message advising him to call NHS direct.

J then telephoned 999 again and said that C was still unwell and he was advised to stay by the phone and assumed help was on its way. An hour or so later J had to leave C and their daughter, who was 2 years of age as he had to go to work and he believed the ambulance was on its way. No ambulance was dispatched.

C collapsed again sometime after J had left their home and their daughter telephoned her father, to say that she could not wake up her mummy. J rang 999 again. This time, an ambulance was dispatched and C was pronounced dead, when they arrived. A post mortem report confirmed that her cause of death was Sudden Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP).

C’s family complained to the ambulance provider. Her partner instructed Osbornes Law to pursue the claim and a Letter of Claim was sent to the Defendant and the response was a firm denial of causation despite partial admissions of breach. Proceedings were issued and served. A similar position was adopted in the subsequent Defence.

The parties duly instructed an expert each in the disciplines of paramedical treatment and epileptology. In addition, a loss of services report was also obtained by J.

A substantial way into the proceedings, however, the Defendant amended its Defence to admit that but for its breaches of duty, C would have been attended to by paramedics and would not have died. A joint settlement meeting eventually took place and there were several issues of concern between the parties, namely C’s condition and prognosis had she survived, C’s future earnings potential and whether J qualified as a “dependent” within the meaning of the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. Issues were also raised in relation to C’s life expectancy and if she would have been fit enough to return to work in any event.

Despite these issues dependency claims for J and his daughter were successful. Following the Joint settlement meeting the case settled in January 2019.

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