MALPRACTICE LAWSUITS ON THE INCREASE
Malpractice lawsuits on the increase
The death of 29-year-old Chrystal Boodoo-Ramsoomair has raised the obvious question of medical malpractice. The mother of three died hours after undergoing a Caesarean section at San Fernando General Hospital on March 4. For families plunged into disbelief and sorrow, what recourse does the Trinidad and Tobago law hold? According to attorney Martin George, there has been an “evolution” in the laws of T&T, as the number of medical malpractice cases keep increasing. George said given the vast nature of such cases, the law had adapted to suit. “What we have had in T&T is an evolution in the law as it regards medical negligence … The law has grown, it has evolved and it as increased,” he explained.
Checks with the library at the High Court showed that there were no available statistics on medical malpractice suits. A High Court Judge, however, said less than 20 judgments were handed down each year in medical malpractice lawsuits. According to George, in such lawsuits “the whole area of medical malpractice” must be taken into consideration. “You are looking at the whole spectrum of duties and responsibilities which flow from that,” George said. He cited the 1985 case of Grace Primer as the first which “broke ground” in T&T regarding medical malpractice. “Grace Primer versus the Attorney General changed the direction in which medical practice was handled in T&T,” he said.
“In that case, the plaintiff made allegations against the state and the staff of the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope. “She indicated she was 26 and she made allegations of negligence against the doctors and nurses who attended to her.” Trial judge Justice Basdeo Maraj found that the nurses on duty at the ward were negligent in that they did not pay any due regard to the plaintiff’s case or previous medical history. “In other words there is a duty upon the institution to not only look at the circumstances as they are but also look at the case history, which is critical,” George said. He said since then there had been several other cases which had followed along that line. According to George, because of the Grace Primer case, doctors have been “willing” to come forward to give evidence against their colleagues.
“We have had scenarios where doctors are actually willing to go in court, go on the witness stand and give evidence against other doctors. “So the profession has become a lot more open minded towards this area of medical negligence and medical malpractice. “Whereas in the past doctors wouldn’t want to give evidence against a fellow doctor, that has changed,” he said. George also cited the 1998 case of Rana Ramlal versus a doctor assigned to the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) which resulted in a “major scandal in the health institution.” According to facts, in a Court of Appeal judgment delivered by Justice Allan Mendonca in 2003, Ramlal went to the Casualty Department of San Fernando General Hospital. She was approximately 18 to 20 weeks’ pregnant and experiencing severe lower abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding.