On Friday 21 December 2012, the Supreme Court awarded Luis Almario compensation in the sum of $364,372.48 in a case brought by Turner Freeman Lawyers against his previous general practitioner, Emmanuel Varipatis.
Claim against GP
Mr Almario had sought the assistance of Turner Freeman after over a decade of failed litigation and significant loss as a result. The case against Dr Varipatis was filed in the Supreme Court on 29 March 2012 and the matter was heard and a Judgment delivered on an expedited basis.
The essence of the case was an allegation by Mr Almario that Dr Varipatis was legally responsible for the consequences of his pre-existing liver disease progressing to cirrhosis, liver failure and eventually liver cancer. Mr Almario is sadly dying of liver cancer and at best, he only has a few months to live. The allegation was that Mr Almario’s general practitioner could have been more proactive in treating Mr Almario’s early stages of liver disease by emphatically addressing his morbid obesity. The allegations were disputed by Dr Varipatis’ insurer and the case strongly contested by his solicitors.
Of interest is that Dr Varipatis was a general practitioner who had a particular interest in nutritional and environmental disease. Mr Almario contacted him as he was concerned that his general medical condition had been caused by his exposure to toxic chemicals at his workplace, being the Union Carbide site at Rhodes. He worked there as a cleaner. One of the allegations made by Mr Almario was that rather than disabuse him of any link between his health problems and his exposure at work, Dr Varipatis entrenched that belief and referred Mr Almario for a series of detoxification treatments. It was alleged that a reasonable general practitioner in Dr Varipatis’ position ought to have known that the plaintiff’s health problems, including his liver problems, were not caused by toxic exposure in the workplace, but were due to the combined effects of his morbid obesity and related conditions. As a result, the allegation was that a referral should have been made to a liver specialist and/or an endocrinologist or as a result of years of failed dieting and continuing detrimental effects on his liver, to a bariatric surgeon.
Ultimately, the Court found that Dr Varipatis was negligent in failing to refer Mr Almario to a bariatric surgeon for consideration of his suitability for surgery and in the alternative, for failing to refer Mr Almario to an obesity clinic and for failing also to refer him to a hepatologist (specialist in liver disease) or similarly qualified physician for specific investigation and treatment of his liver condition. Accordingly, Mr Almario was awarded discounted damages.
The case was lost by Mr Almario on appeal and the High Court refused to grant special leave in order for that Court to decide on the validity of the Judgment by the Court of Appeal
Despite the final outcome in Mr Almario’s case, Mr Almario had a right to be heard and the merits of his case stand firm. There is no doubt that obesity is a serious disease, difficult to treat and its causes are multifactorial. The decision does not change anything in relation to a general practitioner’s obligation; that being to investigate, treat and refer patients with serious problems to appropriate specialists.