Pretoria - A mother of two will this year be able to proceed with her damages claim against the doctor who treated her husband at a Westville hospital in KwaZulu-Natal after he suffered permanent brain damage following cardiac arrest.
The mother, who cannot be identified to protect her children, earlier turned to the High Court in Pietermaritzburg. A judge determined that the doctor, a locum hired by a firm of doctors, as well as the doctor’s firm, were 65% liable for the damages she could prove she had suffered as a result of her husband’s condition.
But both the locum doctor and the firm that hired him turned to the Supreme Court of Appeal against the judgment which found them liable. This meant that the woman’s claim was on ice, pending the outcome of the appeal.
Shortly before Christmas, the SCA found the locum was indeed liable for the husband’s brain damage, as he should not have simply left him in the care of the nursing staff.
While his appeal was turned down, the SCA upheld the appeal of the firm of doctors that hired the stand-in doctor, as it was found that they could not be held responsible for his conduct.
The husband, only identified as Mr S in the SCA judgment, was brought to the hospital’s emergency unit by his wife after he consumed tablets in combination with alcohol.
During the course of that evening Mr S became hypoxic and suffered cardiac arrest, which led to permanent brain damage. A Dr Mohun (first appellant) was that evening hired as a locum by a doctor’s firm. He provided clinical care in the emergency unit for the hospital. The patient was 43 when he was admitted to the hospital three days after Christmas in 2014.
Shortly after his arrival, the doctor examined him.
Later that night he suffered cardiac arrest, which led to permanent brain damage.
The wife and a curator appointed to act on behalf of the husband argued that the doctor on duty acted negligently by failing to properly assess and monitor Mr S’ condition so as to timeously render appropriate treatment to him.
But the doctor on duty denied any negligence and said he thoroughly examined the patient and he was stable when he left him.
The doctor said when he was informed of Mr S’ deteriorating condition, he immediately reassessed the situation, and resuscitated him. He remained with him until his admission to the intensive care unit.
A medical expert testified that the detrimental effects of pharmaceutical drugs consumed with alcohol on the brain and airways were common knowledge in the medical field and that it can lead to cardiac arrest.
If the hypoxia was treated in time, even up to two minutes before the cardiac arrest, it would probably not have occurred and the patient would not have suffered brain damage, he testified.
Five SCA judges concluded that it was clear from the expert’s evidence that because of the intake of alcohol and drugs, Mr S could not have been stable, as presumed by the doctor.
The expert said the patient’s condition would gradually change as the drugs and alcohol were absorbed. “The evidence of negligence and causation is overwhelmingly against the doctor on duty,” the SCA ruled.