This year, for the Stroke Foundation’s National Stroke Week, we are again celebrating F.A.S.T. Heroes. These are people who have spotted the signs of stroke and called an ambulance straight away, potentially saving a life. The diagnosis and treatment of stroke is time-critical and every minute counts. A delay in treatment can have a considerable difference on recovery. For more information about the Stroke Foundation and its important work, follow the link to the Stroke Foundation website.
You can revisit our earlier blog in relation to strokes and the F.A.S.T. test here.
A recent case considered by the Queensland Court of Appeal shows how important expert evidence is to proving each element of medical negligence.
The plaintiff in the case was 84 years old and had suffered a number of strokes in the past. On the evening of 29 July 2018, her brother noticed she was exhibiting signs of a stroke. He took her to hospital where she was admitted and seen by a registrar. He diagnosed her as suffering a stroke and arranged for her to be attended by the hospital’s stroke specialist Dr Durairaj, one of the defendants to the claim.
Dr Durairaj administered thrombolysis, a substance designed to dissolve stroke-causing blood clots. Thrombolysis is sometimes referred to as a “clot busting” therapy. The plaintiff was then administered a further drug called prothrombinex to counteract the anti-coagulation properties of thrombolysis. Prothrombinex is designed to prevent further bleeding. The evidence suggested that after the administration of thrombolysis the plaintiff improved but then suffered a decline in her condition and suffered further strokes prior to the administration of prothrombinex.
The plaintiff’s case was that the administration of thrombolysis and/or prothrombinex was negligent and that the administration of one or both of the drugs caused the plaintiff to suffer further strokes. The plaintiff argued that if she had not received the drug treatments, she would not have suffered further strokes. The plaintiff also argued that the defendants failed to warn her as to the risks of the medical treatment that was administered to her.
The plaintiff did not lead any expert or lay-witness evidence in the matter.
The defendant hospital and specialist served evidence to the effect that it was appropriate to administer thrombolysis, thrombolysis did not cause the further strokes and the infusion of prothrombinex did not cause damage to the plaintiff. The defendants alleged that they had adequately explained the risks of the treatment to the plaintiff and obtained her informed consent.
The Court accepted that the defendants had appropriately warned the plaintiff of the risks of treatment and obtained the necessary consent from her. The plaintiff failed at first instance before the Supreme Court of Queensland.
On appeal, the plaintiff (then the appellant) argued that there were contraindications to the administration of thrombolysis, the defendants (then the respondents) had not appropriately explained the risks of the treatment, the administration of thrombolysis caused bleeding which caused the plaintiff’s further strokes, the infusion of prothrombinex caused the further strokes.
The plaintiff had relied only upon her own research to prosecute the case. The Court found against the plaintiff on all appeal issues on the basis that the plaintiff had not served any evidence (either expert or lay-witness) to contraindicate that of the defendants.
This case shows the importance of obtaining expert evidence to prove each element of negligence – which is that there was a breach of duty of care which caused someone to suffer some damage or harm. Obtaining supportive expert evidence is crucial to obtaining judgment in your favour in a medical negligence claim.
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Medical negligence claims are difficult and rely upon supportive expert evidence in order to be successful. At Turner Freeman, we have specialist medical negligence lawyers who will assess your case and provide personalised advice regarding your legal entitlements. Our medical negligence lawyers are located across NSW including in our offices in Sydney, Parramatta, Wollongong, Newcastle and Toronto.
If you or someone you know has suffered as a result of medical negligence, we encourage you to call us on 13 43 63 to speak with one of our medical law experts.