Judge: No evidence of negligence by private hospital

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Black Immigrant Daily News

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

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The sister of a Republic Bank employee who died in May 2011 will not be allowed to advance a claim for medical negligence against Medcorp Ltd, as a High Court judge has ruled she has insufficient evidence to take the matter to trial.

On Monday, Justice Robin Mohammed ruled in favour of an application for summary judgment by Medcorp Ltd, which owns and runs St Clair Medical, where Stacey-Ann Singh had two surgeries in September 2009 and April 2011.

He dismissed the claim filed by Singh’s sister Suzanne Dickson on May 14, 2015, exactly four years after Singh died at St Clair Medical.

In his decision, the judge said Medcorp Ltd would be entitled to recover the costs of the summary-judgment application, filed in September 2020, and for the claim.

As he set out in his reasons why he agreed with Medcorp Ltd’s lawyers that Dickson had failed to establish the existence of a duty of care or breach of that duty by St Clair Medical, the judge admitted the facts and evidence in the matter did give “much reason to pause.”

Singh died on May 14, 2011, after having surgery 16 days earlier. This second surgery was to replace broken screws in her spine which had been inserted after she fell when a chair collapsed on her at the Park Street branch of Republic Bank, where she worked, in August 2008.

Singh’s first surgery at St Clair Medical was in September 2009. Afterwards a fragment of the scalpel blade the surgeon used was left in her body.

The judge said: “It goes without saying that the deceased underwent tremendous and unabated suffering following her fall in 2008.

“Also, at both of her admissions to the defendant’s facility for surgical procedures, she was the subject of most unfortunate circumstances.

“While it is clear to this court that something went terribly wrong, particularly in the days following her second surgery, the answer to that question of what went wrong remains unclear.

“In any event, the primary question that the court is duty-bound to answer is not only what went wrong but more importantly, who was responsible.

“Having regard to the evidence advanced for my consideration I am not satisfied that it is of adequate sufficiency that the claimant can point fingers at the defendant and find success at the conclusion of a trial.

“I also do not find the evidence of the claimant to be of sufficient strength to warrant a fuller investigation of the facts at trial.”

In support of its application for summary decision, Medcorp denied liability for negligence, as all it did was provide nursing care and the medical facility equipment and supplies to the surgeon who did the procedures.

The institution contended the surgeon did not perform the surgeries as a partner, employee or its agent, but had entered into a contract independently. It was the evidence of Medcorp’s principal that the physicians, surgeons and medical practitioners did not work through the institution, but patients were admitted to St Clair Medical at the request of these physicians, who were permitted to treat their patients there, use its nursing services and medical equipment, but Medcorp had no control over how the medical practitioners performed their duties.

Dickson’s claim was initially filed against the bank, the surgeon, two other doctors and Medcorp. Proceedings were discontinued against the bank and the other two doctors. The claim against the surgeon who performed both procedures was previously dismissed, after he applied for a similar summary judgment. Medcorp remained the sole defendant in the lawsuit.

In his decision, Mohammed said, “The unassailable fact remains that the burden of proof remains on the claimant to establish the existence of a duty.”

He said the evidence showed the surgeon was selected and employed by Singh herself and he and the other doctors “were not employees or agents of Medcorp.”

As to the re-amended claim to plead that the nurses at St Clair owed a duty of care to Singh, the judge held that given the previous findings that the surgeon’s act did not extend to Medcorp, he also said what was alleged was “outside of the scope of expertise of its nurses,” so the claim of negligence had no realistic prospect of success.

Dickson was represented by Senior Counsel Gilbert Peterson, Kijana de Silva and Dawn Seecharan. Medcorp was represented by attorneys Simon de la Bastide and Tamilee Budhu.