Sepsis, also known as septicaemia or blood poisoning, is a life-threatening condition that arises when an infection causes the immune system to overreact and damage the body’s own tissues and organs.
It can be caused by many organisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi that primarily infect the lungs, skin, urinary tract, brain or abdominal organs. Risk factors such as a weakened immune system, major trauma, cancer, diabetes or young age can increase the risk of sepsis.
The Sepsis Trust reports that in the UK, sepsis is responsible for 52,000 deaths each year, of which 1,000 are children. If the symptoms of sepsis are recognised and treated early, it is unlikely that it will cause any long-lasting complications. Otherwise, it may lead to severe sepsis or septic shock, which can be fatal.
If you have had a late-stage diagnosis or lost a loved one due to misdiagnosis, you might be able to make a sepsis claim. A successful claim can help secure compensation for your pain, suffering, medical costs and other related financial expenses.
Can I make a sepsis claim?
If you or a loved one experienced a delayed or incorrect diagnosis of sepsis, you might be able to make a sepsis claim. The easiest way to find out if you are entitled to compensation is to contact a medical negligence solicitor.
If your claim is valid, your solicitor will work to show that your treatment was negligent by proving:
- A duty of care
It is a given that every healthcare professional has a duty of care towards patients, to act as a competent and skilful professional with the same level of training would in the same situation.
- A breach of duty
A doctor, nurse or another medical professional would have breached their duty towards you if the care they provided was below the reasonable standard of skill and knowledge expected in the field.
They will likely be seen as negligent if they failed to do something within their duty or did something they should not have done. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) offers extensive guidelines that solicitors and medicolegal experts can use as objective standards of care.
You must show that the substandard care you received caused unnecessary and avoidable pain and suffering. This is not always easy to prove, as sepsis can be hard to spot, and symptoms can be vague. Your solicitor will work with medical experts in the field to show that your injury was a foreseeable consequence of the medical staff’s actions or inactions.
For your claim to be successful, you will need proof of the physical, psychological and financial damages you suffered due to the delayed sepsis diagnosis. If you received substandard care but it caused no harm, it is unlikely you would be able to claim compensation.
You might be able to claim sepsis compensation from the NHS or a private healthcare provider if your sepsis diagnosis was missed, causing you unnecessary pain and suffering. Both the NHS and private providers must have insurance against personal injuries to patients, so your sepsis negligence claim will not affect the funds allocated to patient care.
What is sepsis?
Your immune system protects you from diseases caused by pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and toxins and is usually very effective. However, an existing infection may sometimes cause an extreme immune system response in your body that will affect your tissues and organs.
This response, called sepsis, is a life-threatening condition that can lead to organ failure and death and is always a medical emergency that needs immediate diagnosis and treatment. There are three stages of sepsis:
- Sepsis is triggered when an infection gets into the bloodstream and causes inflammation in the body.
- Severe sepsis develops once the inflammation starts to affect organ function.
- Septic shock is a severe complication caused by delayed diagnosis and treatment of sepsis and causes a significant drop in blood pressure. It can lead to severe complications such as stroke, heart failure and death.
Despite being more common than heart attacks and killing more people than road accidents and bowel, breast and prostate cancer combined, awareness of sepsis is astonishingly low.
In 2017, the condition affected 49 million people worldwide and was linked to approximately 11 million deaths, roughly 20% of annual global deaths according to the World Health Organisation. Sepsis disproportionately affects children and vulnerable populations living in low-income countries.
Any infection can trigger sepsis, but the following conditions have a higher risk of leading to a systemic inflammatory response:
- Kidney infections
- Abdominal diseases such as gastroenteritis and appendicitis
- Systemic fungal infections
Sepsis can be hard to spot and have many different symptoms, but the most common are fever, chills, confusion, rapid breathing and rapid heartbeat. If you have any symptoms, your doctor should order blood tests to check for complications such as:
- Clotting problems
- Low oxygen levels
- Abnormal kidney or liver function
- Electrolyte imbalances
Additional tests to detect the cause and source of infection include:
- Urine tests
- A wound secretion test
- A mucus secretion test
- Chest x-rays to view the lungs
- Ultrasound to check for gallbladder or ovaries infections
- CT scans to view the pancreas, appendix and bowel area
- MRI scans to identify soft tissue infections
If you suspect you may have sepsis, you should seek immediate medical care. Delayed treatment may lead to long-term complications and may even be fatal. If you suffered losses due to negligence care, you might be entitled to make a sepsis claim for compensation.
What are the symptoms of sepsis?
Spotting sepsis can be tricky because symptoms can be vague and similar to other conditions like flu or a chest infection. The condition is particularly difficult to spot in some people, including:
- Babies and young children
- People that have dementia or another neurodegenerative condition
- People with learning disabilities and who have difficulty communicating
It is essential to seek immediate medical care if you experience any of the common sepsis signs and symptoms, such as:
- Fever, chills, or feeling cold and clammy
- Difficulty breathing or breathlessness that may feel like a chest infection
- Feeling confused or disoriented
- Slurred speech or not making sense
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and loss of appetite
- Muscle pain that feels like the flu
- Fast heart rate or low blood pressure
If left untreated, the inflammation may start to affect the organs in your body and lead to severe sepsis, characterised by:
- Blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue
- Abnormal heart function
- Decreased urination
- Low platelet count
- Extreme weakness
- Changes in mental ability
Sepsis can very quickly progress to septic shock, with overlapping symptoms such as very low blood pressure, severe difficulty breathing, acute confusion and blue skin.
Neonatal sepsis occurs when a newborn develops the condition in the first month of life. While symptoms can be subtle and nonspecific, some signs include:
- Not breastfeeding well
- Low body temperature or fever
- Pale and cold extremities
- Abdominal swelling
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
People with sepsis are typically treated in hospital intensive care units with several medications, including:
- Intravenous antibiotics to treat the infection
- Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
- Drugs to increase blood pressure
- Pain relievers
- Giving fluids intravenously
- Insulin to stabilise blood sugar levels
- Dialysis if the kidneys are affected
- Surgery to remove a pus-filled abscess or infected tissue
If you or a loved one suffered unnecessary harm due to medical negligence, you might be able to make a sepsis claim. If you feel you are entitled to sepsis compensation, call 0800 678 1410 or request a call back to receive a free consultation with a legal adviser.
Who is most at risk of developing sepsis?
Although anyone could develop sepsis after an injury or minor infection, several risk factors increase the chance of being affected by the condition. People most at risk of sepsis include those who:
- Are very young or very old
- Infants born prematurely
- Newborns whose mother suffered an infection during pregnancy
- Suffer from a chronic illness such as diabetes or cancer
- Have a compromised immune system or receive treatment that weakens their immune system
- Are treated in the hospital for a severe illness
- Have just had surgery
- Have invasive devices, such as intravenous catheters or breathing tubes
- Suffered an injury as a result of a traumatic accident
- Have previously used antibiotics or corticosteroids
- Women who have just given birth, miscarried or had an abortion
Several factors have contributed to the rise of sepsis cases over the last decades, including:
- Increased awareness and tracking of the condition, so more cases are recognised than in the past
- People with chronic diseases live longer and have an increased chance of developing sepsis
- Some infections are antibiotic-resistant and can no longer be eliminated with drugs
- Organ transplants are more common and are associated with an increased risk for sepsis
As sepsis worsens, the blood flow to vital organs such as the heart, brain or lungs becomes impaired. While most people make a full recovery, this can take time, and some physical and emotional symptoms may last for months or even years after the disease. Symptoms of post-sepsis syndrome include:
- Lack of appetite
- Getting ill more often
- Feeling very tired and weak
- Difficulty sleeping
- Anxiety, depression and other mood changes
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Unfortunately, sepsis may sometimes cause permanent organ damage such as kidney failure that needs lifelong dialysis or problems with thinking, memory and concentration if it affects the brain. If you suffered a physical or psychological injury due to negligent treatment, you might be able to make a sepsis claim.
When can sepsis result in a medical negligence claim?
Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening disease caused by the immune system’s exaggerated response to an infection. If the symptoms are not recognised and treated quickly, it can lead to long-term or permanent health complications and may even be fatal.
Doctors and other medical staff must be able to detect sepsis at its early stages and provide adequate therapy to treat it. Any delays in diagnosis or treatment may entitle you to receive sepsis compensation.
While not all medical mistakes are deemed negligent, some common causes that may lead to a sepsis negligence claim include:
- Your healthcare provider misdiagnosed your condition, so the sepsis worsened.
- Your GP did not refer you to a specialist, or you were dismissed from a hospital when you had sepsis symptoms.
- You have been kept waiting in the A&E or another medical facility, leading to a delayed diagnosis of your condition.
- Your healthcare provider failed to administer the correct treatment for an infection.
- You contracted an infection during a hospital stay or surgical procedure.
- Your doctor did not order the necessary blood tests when symptoms were present.
- The medical staff failed to act on abnormal test results such as high white blood cell counts.
- Your doctor delayed taking blood cultures or running additional tests to detect an infection.
- You were not given antibiotics after childbirth or surgery.
- You were given the wrong medication for sepsis, so the treatment was not as effective as expected.
If you have suffered or lost a loved one due to medical mistakes when dealing with sepsis, you might be entitled to claim sepsis compensation.
How to make a sepsis negligence claim
If sepsis is not promptly diagnosed and treated, it can lead to severe and life-changing health complications and may entitle you to make a sepsis negligence claim.
To start a claim against your local NHS trust or a private healthcare provider, you should seek legal advice as early as possible. Your solicitor will let you know whether you have valid grounds to claim compensation and guide you through the claims process.
There are several essential steps that you should take if you want to make a sepsis claim:
1) Gather as much evidence as you can to help support your negligence claim. This could include:
- Medical records that state the investigations your doctor carried out and the medications and treatments you received;
- Photographs showing the physical consequences of your delayed diagnosis;
- Witness statements from friends, family and medical staff that treated you;
- Your notes about your symptoms, the treatments you received and how your condition worsened;
- Any correspondence between you and your healthcare provider;
- An independent medical exam with an expert in the field who will assess your long-term needs and recovery prospects;
- Evidence of all the financial losses and expenses you incurred due to the delayed sepsis diagnosis.
2) Your solicitor will send a detailed letter of claim to the healthcare provider you hold responsible for your damages. The letter will contain a description of your injuries and the financial losses you incurred, and why you are holding them liable for your sepsis complications.
The defendant has 21 days to acknowledge your letter and another three months to investigate the circumstances that led to the sepsis claim. At the end of this period, they must send you a letter of response stating whether they admit liability or not.
3) Your solicitor will carefully consider how the condition affected your life, and all your future care needs to calculate how much sepsis compensation you are entitled to. If the other side admits liability, your solicitor can begin to negotiate a settlement. Both parties will usually make multiple offers until you can agree on a sum that is acceptable to both parties.
4) If the defendant denies responsibility for your losses or you cannot agree on how much compensation you should receive, you may have to issue court proceedings. However, that is highly unlikely, as less than 1% of all medical negligence claims go to court.
If your claim goes to court, your solicitor will usually instruct a barrister to represent you. The judge will examine the evidence presented by both parties and decide whether the defendant is liable for your injuries and how much compensation you should receive.
5) Once your sepsis claim concludes, you should receive your compensation award within four weeks. If relevant, your solicitor can help you set up a personal injury trust so your settlement will be disregarded for means-tested benefits and ring-fenced against third parties.
Is there a time limit for making a sepsis claim?
The time limit to make a sepsis negligence claim is usually three years after the date of the negligent treatment or the date of knowledge. The latter refers to the moment you became aware that:
- The consequences of your delayed sepsis treatment are severe enough to take legal action
- Your health complications were due to the negligence of a healthcare professional
The last day you can start legal proceedings is the claim limitation date. Afterwards, your case becomes statute-barred, and the court will no longer accept your sepsis claim.
There are several exceptions to the three-year time limit to claim, including:
- If the victim is a child under 18, a parent or another litigation friend could start a claim at any point before they turn 18. If the litigation friend route is not used, the victim will have three years to claim from when they turn 18.
- There is no time limit to claim sepsis compensation for a victim who does not have the mental ability to do so themselves. They may lack mental capacity due to a pre-existing condition such as dementia or autism or as a result of sepsis complications. The standard three year time limit only begins to count down if they recover mental capacity.
- If a loved one passed away due to sepsis misdiagnosis or negligence, you could make a claim within three years after the date of death or after a post-mortem revealed the cause of death. If the victim died while pursuing compensation, you have another three years to continue their claim.
- If you received negligent treatment abroad, the time limit to bring a sepsis claim may be subject to the foreign country’s rules and may be much shorter than three years.
As a general rule, the sooner you speak to a solicitor, the easier it is to collect evidence and build a strong sepsis claim. They can also help you get access to the best medical treatments and arrange for you to receive interim payments to cover pressing financial needs.
Can I claim if a loved one passed away due to sepsis?
Losing a loved one due to sepsis complications can be devastating. While no amount of money can help you cope with the grief, sepsis compensation could help ease the financial strain your loss might have caused.
According to the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, any dependant of the deceased could make a sepsis negligence claim within three years after the date of death, which includes:
- Their spouse or former spouse
- A civil partner or former civil partner
- A co-habiting partner for at least two years before their death
- A parent and anyone treated as a parent
- A child or someone they treated as a child
- Siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents and grandchildren
Any dependants that relied on the victim’s income and services could make a dependency claim, which generally covers two aspects:
- Financial dependency
It compensates for the monetary benefits expected from the deceased and does not cover damages for pain and sorrow. The financial dependency claim considers the loss of income, pensions, bonuses, investments, healthcare benefits and other financial losses and is often complex and laborious to calculate a fair compensation award.
- Loss of service dependency
You can also claim for the loss of services the deceased would have provided, such as childcare, DIY projects, household chores and property maintenance. Child dependants could also claim loss of care, such as helping with homework and cooking meals.
Under the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934, you can also claim for reasonable funeral expenses, such as wreaths, the cost of a memorial or monument or embalming of the body. You cannot claim compensation for the cost of funeral clothes, the wake or the cost of probate.
A limited number of people can also ask for bereavement damages in a sepsis negligence claim. The bereavement award acts as recognition of wrongful death and aims to compensate for grief and suffering. It is currently a lump payment of £15,120 and is limited to:
- Spouses and civil partners
- A partner who lived with the deceased for at least two years
- The parents of a legitimate, unmarried child under 18
- The mother of an illegitimate, unmarried child under 18
If a loved one has passed away due to sepsis, call 0800 678 1410 or request a call back to receive a free consultation with a legal adviser. They can let you know if you can make a sepsis claim and answer any questions you may have.
How much compensation can I claim for sepsis?
Every sepsis claim is unique, so it is difficult to say how much compensation you could receive for your damages without examining the particulars of your case. Your solicitor will consider in detail all the ways in which the delayed treatment affected your life to calculate a suitable settlement for your past and future losses.
In every personal injury claim, you can recover two types of damages:
Special damages cover your financial losses and expenses, including:
- Lost wages and loss of earning capacity
- Cost of past and future medical treatment
- Cost of rehabilitation and counselling
- Cost of hiring help and assistance
- Travel expenses
- Medical equipment such as mobility aids
- Adaptations to your home or vehicle
- Any other reasonable out-of-pocket expenses
General damages cover pain, suffering and loss of everyday amenities, including:
- Past and future physical pain and suffering
- Physical and mental impairment
- Psychological and emotional trauma
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of consortium
- Inability to pursue a hobby or leisure activity
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Reduced quality of life and life expectancy
The Judicial College is a department of the Ministry of Justice responsible for setting guidelines for general damages for all personal injury types. According to their guidelines, you could receive:
- £1,940 to £11,200 for a minor brain injury with minimal or no permanent damage
- £37,760 to £79,530 for moderate brain damage in which concentration and memory are significantly affected
- £131,620 to £192,090 for moderately severe brain damage causing damage to intellect, serious risk of epilepsy and problems with sight and speech
- £247,280 to £354,260 for very severe brain damage leaving the victim in need of full-time care
- £1,000 to £60,000 for mild to moderate damage to internal organs
- £21,810 to £24,999 for finger amputations causing impaired grip and movement restrictions
- £225,960 to £264,650 for wrongful leg amputations caused by sepsis misdiagnosis
- £96,160 to £300,000 for partial to complete arm amputations
- £60,000 to £100,000 for severe injuries to internal organs
- £12,000 to £300,000 for wrongful death
- £4,380 compensation for mental anguish caused by the thought of impending death
- £5,500 to £17,900 for mild psychiatric damage
- £21,730 to £56,180 for moderately severe PTSD causing significant disability
- £1,000 to £200,000 for unnecessary pain and suffering, depending on the severity
After examining all the details of your case, your solicitor will be able to give you an accurate estimate of your sepsis compensation prospects.
Can sepsis claims be made using no win no fee?
Sepsis claims, like all other personal injury claims, can be made under a no win no fee agreement. During your free consultation with a personal injury solicitor, they will ask you some questions to determine whether you have valid grounds to claim.
If your case has merit, you can claim compensation on a no win no fee basis. This means your solicitor will represent you without asking you to pay any fees upfront. Furthermore, if your sepsis claim fails, you do not have to pay them a single penny for their work.
If you win your claim, the defendant will cover your solicitor’s fees. You will only have to pay a success fee to your solicitor that will be deducted from your compensation award. The success fee is capped at 25% of your settlement and will be thoroughly discussed and agreed upon from the outset.
As part of your no win no fee agreement, your solicitor will also take out an After the Events (ATE) insurance policy at the beginning of your claim. The ATE insurance is a legal expenses insurance that will cover all the costs and disbursements incurred while claiming if you lose the case, including:
- The defendant’s solicitor fees
- Court fees
- Barrister and expert witness fees
- Travel expenses
- Costs of printing and copying
- Medical and police reports
ATE insurance is self-insuring, meaning you will only have to pay the premium if your case is successful.
No win no fee is the preferred way to fund a personal injury claim because:
- You can take legal action regardless of your financial situation, and if your sepsis claim is unsuccessful, you will not incur any out-of-pocket expenses.
- If you win, you only have to pay a success fee to your solicitor and the cost of the ATE premium.