Medical malpractice – Types and South African examples

medical malpractice
25 May 2023

Medical malpractice in South African hospitals is far from rare. In fact, the Department of Health faces billions in medical malpractice claims every year.

Three types of medical malpractice are the most common in South Africa. In this article, we offer recent South African statistics and medical malpractice examples.

Birth-related medical malpractice

Birth-related injuries are those that take place during labour and childbirth. The most common birth injury is cerebral palsy or brain damage due to lack of oxygen during childbirth.

South Africa has a higher-than-average prevalence of cerebral palsy. The global average is two per 1,000 births. South Africa’s statistics are as high as 10 per 1,000 births.

The rate of maternal deaths in South Africa is also very high. Up to 40% of maternal deaths can be attributed to community, administrative and clinical failures.

South Africa’s climbing rate of Caesarean sections is considered a contributing factor. According to the South African Medical Journal, 71% of maternal deaths due to Caesarean sections were preventable.

The following are some South African examples of birth-related medical malpractice cases.

TN on behalf of BN v Member of the Executive Council for Health, Eastern Cape

In 2023, a child suffered severe birth injuries due to negligence by medical staff in a public hospital. These injuries included cerebral palsy, microcephaly, intellectual impairment and epilepsy. The plaintiff was awarded a lump sum of R2,136,146 and the defendant was ordered to cover the costs of an extremely broad range of medical procedures, therapies, care services and both medical and care-related supplies and equipment – designed, as far as possible, to cover all needs for the rest of the child’s life.

TL on behalf of KRL v the MEC for Health, North West Province

In 2021, the courts awarded R10,959,546 to the mother of a child born with cerebral palsy due to malpractice. The amount would cover future medical costs, caregiving, loss of earnings and general damages.

Infant K v Department of Health, North West Province

In 2003, a baby was left with total paralysis of his right arm after suffering traumatic birth injuries caused by being forced out of the birth canal. The child was also left with hypoxic brain damage. The court awarded total compensation of R5,647,274.

Medical malpractice in neurosurgery

Complications during neurosurgery can affect the brain, nervous system and major sensory organs, such as the eyes.

Medical malpractice during neurosurgery can cause brain injuries, aneurysms, loss of limb functions or feeling, and complex regional pain syndrome.

Claims related to neurosurgery result in some of the largest pay-outs worldwide.

The following South African case involved the highest settlement of its type in the country at the time.

Kerri Mel O’Loughlin v the Medical Protection Society

In 2013, an 11 year old girl in Mossel Bay was awarded a R25 million pay-out after she was left with brain damage after three operations to place a shunt were unsuccessful. The girl subsequently developed cognitive, memory, speech, visual and mobility problems.

Orthopaedic malpractice

Orthopaedic claims relate to injuries or complications during treatment to a person’s musculoskeletal system. This includes the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons and cartilage.

Orthopaedic claims are common in South Africa, usually stemming from misdiagnosis, wrong site surgery, substandard treatment, lack of resources and more.

The following are some examples of South African orthopaedic malpractice claims.

Petersen v Oosthuizen

In 2022, Brent Jeffrey Petersen was awarded damages after spinal surgery and a range of other treatments to treat his back pain left him with arachnoiditis, a condition that makes it difficult for him to walk, making him largely bed ridden.

Amos v MEC for Health and Social Development and Another

In 2016, a plaintiff was awarded damages after insufficient diagnosis and substandard treatment following a quad bike accident in which he broke his arm left him with a chronically dislocated left elbow and a markedly restricted range of movement.

Van den Berg v Minister of the Executive Council for The Department of Health, North West

In 2015, complications during a hip replacement surgery resulted in limping and shortening of the leg. The plaintiff was awarded damages after the courts ruled that the Department of Health failed to treat the complication properly.

Getting legal assistance with a medical malpractice claim

If you have a medical malpractice claim, it’s important to get competent legal advice and representation. DSC Attorneys specialises in personal injury law and has extensive experience in handling South African medical malpractice cases.

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(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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