Doctor succeeds in drawn-out malpractice suit
North West surgeon Samuel Smith has won a lengthy court battle against a patient who accused him of negligence, in what a Times Select report describes as an important case for the medical fraternity that is grappling rising malpractice claims.
Rabia Beukes sued Smith because the complications she suffered after keyhole surgery left her with a damaged colon and a blood infection, and she spent months in hospital. Beukes blamed the doctor for her complications, saying he did not explain the risks of the procedure. She said she had not given ‘informed’ consent, despite signing a consent form.
Smith endured more than two years of litigation through the High Court and then the SCA, which found in his favour.
What swayed the court were detailed notes Smith had written to the patient’s medical aid, asking for funding for keyhole surgery instead of riskier open surgery.
The court found that he must have explained the different options and risks to Beukes if he had written such a detailed motivation to the medical aid.
Smith’s lawyer, Natasha Naidoo, of Norton Rose Fulbright, said the lesson for doctors was for them to keep notes proving how they explained the risks to the patient. This would reduce the probability of lengthy legal battles.
‘The judgment highlights the importance of keeping clearly and accurately written medical records,’ said Naidoo.
‘Medical records serve as evidence of professional competence and ignorance in cases where it is the patient’s word against the healthcare practitioner’s word.’
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