How to sue a doctor or hospital in South Africa

medical malpractice
29 Jun 2020

If you or a close family member has suffered harm due to medical malpractice, you may have grounds to sue a doctor or hospital.

What constitutes malpractice by a doctor or hospital?

Whenever a healthcare provider has a duty of care to a patient and fails to follow accepted standards of practice, it may constitute medical malpractice.

This can involve acting improperly.

For example, a doctor might fail to get a patient’s informed consent to a procedure, prescribe an incorrect dose of medication or even remove the wrong kidney.

Malpractice can also involve failing to act.

For instance, hospital staff might fail to respond to clear clinical signals of distress in a patient.

Where medical malpractice leads directly to harm to a patient, it may give rise to a legal claim for compensation.

What can you claim?

Victims of medical malpractice can claim compensation for:

  • medical expenses (past and future)
  • loss of income and/or
  • general damages for pain and suffering.

Who do you claim from?

Victims of medical malpractice can open civil cases against the relevant healthcare providers.

It’s possible to claim compensation directly from a doctor or other medical practitioner.

Where malpractice occurs in a hospital setting, the hospital itself can be held vicariously liable.

In the case of a state hospital, the state – as represented by the relevant MEC or the Minister of Health – can be held liable for malpractice by staff, including doctors, nurses or other employees.

If malpractice occurs at a private hospital, the hospital owners may be held liable.

How to pursue a medical malpractice claim

Medical malpractice claims are complex and can take years to conclude. The best advice is to start by contacting a suitably qualified attorney, or firm of attorneys.

Ideally, choose a firm with experience in handling medical malpractice claims similar to yours.

An attorney can guide you through the process of submitting and defending your claim.

The attorney will represent your interests in settlement or court proceedings.

The attorney may also recommend medical experts, who can testify about the nature, most likely cause and long-term effects of a particular injury.

Time limits on claims

Specific time limits apply to malpractice and negligence claims.

Claims must typically be made within three years. However, various exceptions apply.

If you plan to sue a doctor or hospital in South Africa, it’s best to get legal advice. An attorney can advise you about any issues that could affect the validity of your claim.

Also note that all claims against the State – including medical malpractice claims involving state hospitals – are subject to certain, special limits and requirements.

Medical malpractice continuing to increase in South Africa

In 2019, South Africa’s provincial health departments faced medical malpractice claims totaling a whopping R80.4 billion. Many of these claims involve nursing malpractice in state hospitals or nursing homes.

In 2018/19, medical negligence claims in Gauteng alone reached a staggering R29 billion rand.

This is more than half the total budget of the province’s Department of Health. It’s also up by roughly a third, compared to the preceding period.

It’s disappointing that much of government’s response appears to involve blaming the legal fraternity for successfully defending victims of medical malpractice.

Instead, the real solution is to prevent gross malpractice in the first place.

Not an easy task – but obviously one that needs to be addressed urgently.

How DSC Attorneys can help

At DSC Attorneys, our team of attorneys and medico-legal experts has extensive experience in medical malpractice claims, in South Africa and internationally.

Contact us for skilled, effective legal representation, delivered with compassion. We operate on a “no win, no fee” basis.

See also:

(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
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