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Valencia mom burned at Sangre Grande hospital to get compensation

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Valencia mom burned at Sangre Grande hospital to get compensation

A VALENCIA mother who received minor burns when the surgical drapes around her caught on fire while undergoing a caesarian section at the Sangre Grande in 2016 will receive compensation.

In a judgment on Monday, a master of the High Court awarded Clarissa James, 34, a total of $85,000 in damages plus interest and costs.

In her decision, Master Martha Alexander said the entire burning incident was “unfortunate.”

“That a patient under the charge of a team of doctors could have sustained burns during the procedure was shocking, to say the least.”

Alexander acknowledged the burns James received were minor which healed without evidence of lasting, ghastly scaring and the operation continued. However, she added, “this was a defendant who had perpetrated a wrong on the claimant, offered treatment to her but then sought to downplay her evidence as to pain and suffering.”

Alexander said, “It was borne in mind that the defendant’s negligent act had caused the burn injuries and resultant pain and overall suffering. The defendant cannot seriously expect to benefit from its wrong by decrying the evidence as to the claimant’s pain and suffering as unbelievable.

“The defendant also could not escape with a slight tap on the hand for the wrong done by its surgical hands.

“For the suffering that was endured, both physical and mental, she must be awarded fair compensation. The defendant cannot avoid its responsibility to pay appropriate or fair compensation for the wrong done to the claimant by dismissing her pains as nonexistent or alleviated completely by pain medication.”

She did, however, rule that James was not entitled to inflated damages.

James’s upper body was set on fire while in the operating theatre and while she was under anaesthesia. An instrument used by the medical team sparked, setting fire to the drapes.

The fire burned the front of the surgical first assistant’s gown and James’s stomach, chest below the left breast and her left thigh. After the fire was extinguished, the surgery continued successfully.

“The burns suffered by the claimant were caused by the medical team’s negligence,” Alexander said.

The Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA) which operates the hospital was found negligent and the matter was sent to the Master for assessment of damages. At the assessment, the ERHA did not dispute the incident but disputed the severity of the injuries and the quantum of damages sought by James.

Since she could not support the claims for special and aggravated damages, the matter proceeded only for general damages.

At the evidence stage at the assessment hearing, the ERHA called four witnesses: four witnesses: Dr Dale Hassranah, Dr Kristy Mendes and Dr Rhonette Spalding who were all treating doctors; as well as Dr Adesh Sirjusingh, medical chief of staff/administrator of clinical services, Sangre Grande, who met James after the incident.

The medical evidence of the doctors was accepted but Alexander’s decision pointed out that the ERHA sought to build a case that after the incident, James’s life returned to normal and she was not affected by the burns.

It was the ERHA’s evidence that James received seven per cent second-degree burns to her body and these were suffered simultaneously with the c-section.

In her evidence, James admitted while she didn’t feel pain from the burn when it happened, she began to when the anaesthesia gradually wore off.

She said dressing the wound was painful as the area was cracked, desiccated and “weeping pus and oozing constantly.”

Breastfeeding was also a challenge and painful but was able to return to normal living several months after.

She also complained of the effect the burns had on her relationship with her husband – who allegedly shunned her burned body – and her family whose treatment of her made her feel “ugly.” This evidence was not accepted as truthful.

However, Alexander held while “minor,” the burns occupied a large spread of the left side of her body.

“In the aftermath of the incident, the burn site was large and not attractive so her evidence was believable that she would have endured physical as well as emotional and mental pains and distress…The court was minded, also, to accept that her pain and emotional suffering from the incident were real and it was not prepared to minimalise it because she had a caesarian section procedure around the same time that also would have left her with some pain.

She also said, “Burn pains cannot be dismissed as insignificant and whilst the use of painkillers can dull the pain and help with the recovery process, she would have endured searing pain from the seven per cent second-degree burn injuries.

“The arguments of counsel for the defendant that the pain was almost non-existent and indistinguishable from that suffered by the caesarian section were rejected outright as a weak attempt to circumvent and reduce what would have been a really painful experience for the claimant, both physically and emotionally.”

James was represented by attorneys Martin George and Sarah Lawrence while the ERHA was represented by attorneys Ravindra Nanga and Charles Law.


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