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Failure to Treat or Stabilise a Patient in a Hospital Setting: Can You Claim for Wrongful Death?

Failure to Treat or Stabilise a Patient in a Hospital Setting: Can You Claim for Wrongful Death?
Apr 23, 2021 gnuworld
wrongful death

Earlier this year, a video showing a woman at Wentworth Hospital in Durban struggling to breathe and screaming for help was circulated online. The alleged neglect shown in the video and the delay in treatment may have led to her death.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for critically ill patients to be left unattended for hours in hospital corridors and waiting rooms in South Africa.

The video raises valid questions about the possibility of a claim against the hospital for medical negligence. Is a hospital’s failure to treat or stabilise a patient considered grounds for a wrongful death claim?

What the law says

It’s illegal for any hospital to refuse treatment to a patient in a clear emergency, whether it’s a government hospital or a private hospital.

It gets trickier to define negligence when there’s a delay in treatment due to other circumstances, such as overcrowding. The claimant must prove that the delay in treatment was avoidable and the patient’s death was directly attributable to the delay.

When hospitals can legally refuse to treat patients

In non-emergency situations, a hospital can refuse to admit a patient on certain grounds if the hospital:

  • is private and the patient doesn’t have medical aid
  • is overcrowded
  • is under-resourced
  • doesn’t have the expertise or equipment for the patient’s injury or illness.

If the hospital or medical staff failed to offer treatment in a reasonable amount of time without a valid reason, the eventual death of the patient may be attributed to their failure to treat and/or stabilise the patient.

Effects of the pandemic on wrongful death claims

When the pandemic started in 2020, it caused an increase in overcrowding and shortages of staff and medical resources. This impacted many hospitals’ ability to offer treatment to all patients, not just those with COVID-19.

It’s not yet clear what effect this will have on court rulings for medical negligence and wrongful death cases during this period. While the law still applies, the impact of the pandemic must be considered when making rulings.

Claiming for wrongful death

The pandemic and its potential effect on wrongful death cases shouldn’t discourage anyone from pursuing a valid claim. If obvious medical negligence directly resulted in further injury or death, a case must be pursued.

You can claim against a state or a private hospital for a wrongful death due to medical malpractice. You’ll need to be able to prove that the actions of the hospital, doctor or other medical personnel led to the victim’s death. For this, you’ll need legal representation from attorneys who are highly experienced in medical law.

Evidence must be gathered, such as witness statements and medical records, and the claim must be made within three years of the incident or the opportunity to claim will be lost.

In the case of a claim against a state hospital, the relevant State authority must also be given notice of the intent to sue, within six months of the incident.

Even if a waiver was signed, it’s still possible to pursue a wrongful death claim under certain circumstances.

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Wrongful death claims with DSC Attorneys

At DSC Attorneys, we have extensive experience in medical negligence claims against both private and state institutions. We’re experts in medical negligence law and the law involving wrongful death and the failure to treat or stabilise a patient in a hospital setting.

Our medico-legal team can assess your claim, help prepare supporting evidence and represent you in legal proceedings, giving you the best chance of receiving the compensation you deserve. Contact us at DSC Attorneys for the very best legal support and representation. We work on a no-win, no-fee basis.

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