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Doctor Mistreatment of Patient

What Recourse Does A Patient Have for Mistreatment by A Medical Doctor?

Medical negligence or malpractice is not something new. In fact, in ancient Rome, any citizen of Rome who suffered injury as the result of the action – or lack thereof – on behalf of a medical practitioner had the right to take action against the particular practitioner. In fact, the family of the patient could also initiate the action with the Lex Aquilia law. This action would be for the loss of the injured party’s ability to work, as well as medical costs related to the patient’s injury.

Injuries or symptoms as a result of a doctor’s mistreatment of a patient was thus seen as a serious offence. This commitment to restitution can also be traced to the Germanic kingdom, where laws were in place to allow for the handing over of a doctor to the family of a deceased victim if the doctor’s mistreatment was deemed to be the cause of death. The family could decide what to do with the medical practitioner. The practitioner was certainly better off if the patient survived the mistreatment as, in such a case, they would only have to pay a fine to the injured party’s family.

Things have perhaps not changed that much. In South Africa, a patient or their family can initiate civil proceedings against a doctor for mistreatment and can choose to bring criminal charges against the practitioner, as well as submit a complaint against the doctor at the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA).

What has changed from ancient Roman times is that, in the Roman civilisation, medical practitioners could be liable for ignorant, negligent, or intentional malpractice. Today, medical negligence and malpractice are used almost interchangeably, though a doctor’s negligence may not necessarily cause injury. Malpractice, however, is the result of negligence, whether intentional or ignorant. A doctor’s mistreatment of a patient may, for instance, not cause physical injury (or worsening of such), but it can affect the person’s right to be treated with dignity and care.

In Roman times, intentional malpractice was seen as a crime committed with the intention of causing harm, such as when a practitioner poisoned someone on purpose. Today, such an action would still be seen as a criminal act. In modern-day South Africa, a large number of medical-negligence cases are for birth-related injuries, whilst plastic surgeons are also amongst the most affected practitioners when it comes to negligence lawsuits. In many instances, litigation follows against the practitioners for negligence, whether it was because of a wrong diagnosis, incorrect analysis of test results, or a failure to follow the correct procedures.

Only where mistreatment causes severe injury, discomfort, additional medical costs, loss of earnings or of life’s amenities, and pain and suffering can it be negligence or malpractice. In such an instance, it is essential to seek legal guidance regarding the appropriate steps to take against the doctor or hospital.

Call Adele van der Walt Incorporated for advice on medical law and for litigation assistance.

Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Call on our attorneys for legal advice, rather than relying on the information herein to make any decisions. The information is relevant to the date of publishing – June 2019.

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