Pretoria – Doctors could not always be blamed when things go wrong, the Supreme Court of Appeal has said. The court has turned down a multimillion-rand claim against health authorities by the parents of a then 6-year-old boy who suffered a slight bump on the head and is now a spastic quadriplegic.
“What happened is a tragedy and his parents deserve every sympathy for what they have suffered. But medical science has not advanced to the stage of diagnostic infallibility and there will be cases where, notwithstanding the best efforts of the medical profession, a tragedy like this occurs,” a majority judgment of the Supreme Court read.
The court only referred to the child as J. It was told his parents had rushed him to a Western Cape hospital late one afternoon in August 2011 after the then 6-year-old had suffered a slight bump on the head. The doctor on duty examined him and concluded he had suffered a minor injury – a bump on the head. After a brief discussion with his father, she discharged him. His parents took him home. When the father woke up at 3.30 that morning for work, he found the child in an unusually deep sleep.
A while later, the father again checked on the child and found he had vomited and wet the bed. The parents rushed him back to the hospital, but tragically it was too late. A CT scan showed he had blood between his skull and brain. An emergency operation was performed, but it was too late. The child was left with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia.
The parents instituted a claim in the Western Cape High Court, but a judge turned it down as he found the doctor was not negligent in her treatment and diagnosis of the child.
The parents turned to the Appeal Court, which also found the doctor was not to blame. It was established during the child’s second stint in the hospital that he had suffered a linear fracture on his scalp, behind his left ear. A small artery ruptured which caused bleeding and pressure on the brain.
The court found the doctor at the time of examining the bump on the head truly believed it was not serious and she could not be faulted.
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