If you are on the receiving end of a legal claim, sitting on your hands is not an option and you should contact a solicitor straight away. The point was powerfully made by the case of a dentist who, by delaying her response to a clinical negligence claim, very nearly sacrificed her right to defend herself.
The dentist was served with a claim form in which a former patient sought substantial damages. She was thereafter required to serve a formal defence to the claim within a tight timeframe. Extensions of time were voluntarily granted by the patient’s legal team but, when the last of them expired, a defence had still not been received.
Due to that delay, a default judgment on the patient’s claim was entered against her. That in effect deprived her of any opportunity to defend herself against the patient’s serious allegations of negligence. With a view to avoiding that outcome, however, she applied to the High Court to set the default judgment aside.
Ruling on the matter, the Court emphasised that serving a defence is a key step in any piece of litigation and that laxity in the progression of legal proceedings will not be tolerated. It noted, however, that the dentist had served a detailed defence to the claim less than a week after the final consensual extension of time was exceeded.
The Court was satisfied, by a narrow margin, that she had a realistic prospect of successfully defending the claim. Her defence raised issues of substance fit for exploration at trial. There were also doubts as to the state of her mental health during the period when she should have been preparing her defence.
Setting aside the default judgment would have serious consequences for the patient in that she would be required to endure the rigours of proving her case in court. In upholding the dentist’s application, however, the Court was satisfied that justice would be served by permitting her to defend herself at trial.