Supreme Court of Appeal finds doctor liable for patient’s brain damage

The Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein. File picture: ANA Reporter

The Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein. File picture: ANA Reporter

Published Dec 28, 2022


Cape Town - The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has found a doctor liable for the brain damage suffered by a man who overdosed on pills and alcohol eight years ago.

The SCA dismissed with costs, the appeal by KwaZulu-Natal doctor, Sudhir Mohun, and upheld with costs, the appeal by the second appellant in the case, Doctors G Sanpersad, R Maharaj & Associates, the medical practice that had supplied Dr Mohun as a locum.

The central issue in the appeal was whether the appellants were liable for the brain injury sustained by the man who was admitted as a patient in the emergency unit of Life Westville Hospital on December 27, 2014.

During the appeal the patient was classed as the first respondent and was represented by advocate Brett Kingsley Phillips.

The man, who was 43 years old at the time, was brought to the hospital’s emergency unit by his wife, the second respondent, after he reportedly consumed an unknown quantity of pills combined with alcohol.

Shortly after the patient’s arrival, Dr Mohun examined him and during the course of that evening, the patient suffered from low levels of oxygen, (hypoxia) and cardiac arrest, which led to permanent brain damage.

With regard to Dr Mohun's liability, the SCA found the evidence of Prof André Retief Coetzee, Phillips’ expert witness, was cogent, clear and founded on logical reasoning.

Most importantly, the evidence was undisputed in material respects with Dr Mohun agreeing with a number of statements and conclusions made by Prof Coetzee.

Dr Mohun notably conceded that if the hypoxia had been reacted to timeously, the arrest would probably not have occurred and the patient would not have suffered brain damage.

The SCA found that the patient’s history of overdose of alcohol with drugs should have caused a reasonable medical practitioner such as Dr Mohun to expect a gradual change in the patient’s breathing and oxygenation.

In this regard, the SCA found that, on his own evidence, Dr Mohun was negligent by leaving the patient in the care of the nursing staff without adequately instructing them as to what precisely to monitor him for.

For instance, the ingestion of drugs and alcohol could affect his respiratory rate and lead to possible airway obstruction.

The SCA found that the evidence of negligence and causation was overwhelmingly against the doctor.

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