KZN morgue mix-up: Families sue Department of Health for R25m
Durban - TWO grieving families, who were left traumatised after they were given the wrong bodies at Grey’s Hospital and only realised the error after the last rites and cremation had been performed for one of the deceased, intend suing the Department of Health for R25 million in damages.
One of the families is also suing the department for not putting in sufficient precautionary measures to prevent their loved one from contracting Covid-19.
The Maharaj family of Thornville, near Pietermaritzburg, was given the body of Keketso Josefa Mateke, 32, instead of their father, Chundersen Maharaj, 84.
Maharaj contracted Covid-19 after spending a month in hospital following hip surgery, and died on July 15. His family was not allowed to view his body because of his Covid-19 status and they were erroneously given Mateke’s body in a sealed casket.
Mateke, originally from Lesotho, who was allegedly injured while working on a farm in Howick on June 24, had died in hospital on July 5.
His body was being stored at the hospital’s mortuary until his family arrived.
In letters of demand addressed to the hospital and Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu, attorney Theasen Pillay, acting for both families, said the Maharaj and Mateke families claimed damages of R15m and R10m, respectively, for the emotional distress and psychological trauma they had suffered.
Pillay said in the letter, addressing the Maharaj family’s matter, that the family claimed that the hospital had been “negligent” or “grossly negligent” in failing to take “reasonable precautions to safeguard an elderly injured individual from contracting Covid-19”. He alleged that as a consequence of the hospital’s “disastrous and respectfully inhumane blunder” the family had “suffered undue emotional distress, psychological trauma, additional costs, inconvenience and hardship” by having to perform funeral and cremation services on a stranger and then performing a second ceremony for the deceased.
“Our clients claim that the actions by the hospital are disrespectful, despicable, grotesque and inhumane,” Pillay said.
Acting for the Mateke family, Pillay said in their letter of demand that the family had similarly suffered “undue emotional distress and psychological trauma, inconvenience and hardship, not to mention additional costs”.
Pillay said the Mateke family had been deprived of their right to bury the deceased, as well as to conduct rituals relating to the funeral and subsequent ceremonies.
He alleged that what had aggravated the situation was that the hospital had attempted “to cover up the blunder”, by claiming the body that they intended to hand over could not be viewed due to Covid-19 protocols.
He said the Mateke family had been made aware that on July 16, a staff member from Grey’s Hospital had called Maharaj’s son to enquire whether the cremation had taken place.
He said the family believed the hospital was “unequivocally aware” of the blunder at this point.
“Our clients have further been advised that on July 17, the Maharaj family was advised by the hospital that ‘they had been given and cremated the body of a Sotho man”.
He said the Mateke family was advised, on July 21, only after they refused to take a body without viewing it, that Mateke had already been cremated.
“Our clients claim that the actions by the hospital, in totality, are disrespectful, despicable, grotesque and inhumane.
“Our clients have suffered irreparable, emotional torment, pain, and suffering, all of which have been compounded by the fact that the deceased was cremated, which is completely contrary to their religious and cultural belief,” Pillay said. He said it was claimed that Mateke’s soul would not rest in peace.
He said the family had been deprived of its responsibility to conduct burial and last rights rituals, which it believed brings “grave misfortune” and often results in the untimely death of family members.
KZN Health Department spokesperson Ntokozo Maphisa said: ”This matter is currently receiving attention from the department and there have been ongoing engagements with the family.”