High-priced medical blunders

Published: Sunday | October 16, 2011 Comments 0

Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter

When the Jamaican State hands over the last dollar in damages stemming from five malpractice lawsuits it started paying for in 2006, taxpayers will pay no less than $97.4 million for the negligence of the implicated medical professionals.

However, Attorney General Ransford Braham argued that the number of malpractice cases brought against doctors employed by the Jamaican State is relatively low when compared to other jurisdictions.

While not attempting to excuse the errors, the Government's lawyer suggested that wherever humans are employed, inevitably, there will be human errors.

"Anywhere you have human endeavour, you will have mistakes which fall below the level of care," reasoned Braham.

Meanwhile, attorney-at-law Marion Rose-Green, who represented Millicent Forbes, mother of Janice Allen - the little girl who was killed by a stray bullet from a policeman's gun - told The Sunday Gleaner that there are instances in law where "it is cheaper to kill somebody than injure them".

'Downright unfair'

"Some things are fair, some are downright unfair, but it is not peculiar to Jamaica," she said. Rose-Green also believed that some of the methods used by the court in Jamaica to calculate damages are archaic, especially those used to determine the sum to be awarded after the death of a child. The civil suit filed by Forbes was settled for an acceptable sum in 2009, said Rose-Green.

The multimillion dollar malpractice price tag was calculated from figures contained in official documents obtained under the Access to Information (ATI) Act.

Among the 37 cases provided by the Attorney General's Chambers was an out-of-court settlement agreed on in January 2011, which cost the Government approxi-mately $550,000 after a medical snafu at the Cornwall Regional Hospital resulted in the death of a baby boy.

According to the release and discharge document signed by the administrator of the estate of the minor, the baby died on July 6, 2007 after "being intravenously injected with Benzathine Benzyl Penicillin".

The $550,000 agreement freed the Government of any future liability for the death of the baby boy just nine days after his birth. The administrator received a cheque covering the agreed sum in August 2011.

Another malpractice case ruled on by the Supreme Court in December 2010 was the single largest award among the 37 cases provided by the Attorney General's Chambers under the ATI Act.

Negligence

The mother of a young boy was awarded $60.1 million in damages after she filed a civil suit that named the attorney general, the Bustamante Hospital for Children and the South East Regional Health Authority as defendants in a case of negligence on the part of two doctors employed to the hospital in 2005.

After hearing arguments from attorneys representing both sides, a Supreme Court judge ordered an interim payment of $5 million to the claimant in December 2010.

When the matter was settled in late April 2011, another Supreme Court judge ordered that the State pay special damages, general damages, costs to the claimant, and interest totalling little over $55 million.

The State started paying the debt incurred by the negligence of the two doctors last year and up to September 30, 2011 it had only paid $10.5 million of the sum.

In 2007, the Supreme Court ordered that the State pay a claimant $6.3 million in general damages and US$171,000 in future medical expenses. The case was brought against the attorney general and the Southern Regional Health Authority, which meant that the medical negligence occurred in one of the six hospitals or 85 health centres located in the parishes of Clarendon, Manchester or St Elizabeth. The Government finished paying the claimant in June 2010.

tyrone.reid@gleanerjm.com

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