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Doctor loses negligence case against hospital

Peebles Hospital. Photo Credit: BVIHSA

Peebles Hospital. Photo Credit: BVIHSA

The High Court has dismissed a case of negligence that a former patient of Peebles Hospital, Dr Rawle Hannibal, filed against the management of the state-owned facility after he suffered a stroke in 2012.

Justice Vicki Ann Ellis, in her written judgment, said there is evidence the BVI Health Services Authority (BVIHSA) that manages the hospital breached its duty of care to the claimant – Dr Hannibal.

But she reasoned that there is not enough evidence that the breach significantly compromised Dr Hannibal’s health.

“Ultimately, while this court has no reservations in finding that the defendant’s care was negligent; the totality of the evidence makes it impossible for the court to conclude that the claimant’s condition was significantly compromised by the negligence of defendant’s servants or agents,” the judge said.

What happened

Dr Hannibal contended that, as a result of the BVIHSA’s negligence, he suffered loss and damage.

He therefore sought unspecified general damages as well as special damages in the sum of $70,635.

He recalled that he attempted to rise from his bed at his Fort Hill home, but fell to the floor about 3am on December 17, 2012.

Dr Hannibal experienced a pronounced weakness on the left side of his body, and an unusual sensation in the head.

He was later able to drive himself to Peebles Hospital.

He complained that he was seen in the Emergency Room 30 minutes after he arrived at the hospital.

Dr Hannibal said he should have been closely monitored, but instead was placed on trolley in a passage of the Emergency Room, out of sight of nursing staff. He later fell from the trolley.

After a series of other events, including the patient ending up in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, it was determined on December 18 that the said patient had suffered a stroke.

The hospital, in its defence, argued that, even if there had been a breach of duty, Dr Hannibal’s medical history was such that the breach would not have made any difference to his condition, and that he would still have suffered the stroke.

The judge’s conclusion

The court noted that, as typical of such negligence cases, it had to determine if the hospital was negligent, and whether such negligence caused or contributed to the patient’s injuries.

In her conclusion, Justice Ellis made note of the expert opinion presented by Dr Richard Hardie.

She stated that,on the critical issue of causation, Dr Hardie’s opinion was not significantly undermined by the claimant – Dr Hannibal.

The judge further explained: “The claimant’s case is further taxed by Dr Hardie’s contention that the delay in administering the treatment was not the cause of the claimant’s stroke because, on a balance of probability, he would probably have suffered the stroke anyway.”

“The court has no doubt that the relevant risk factor in the claimant’s case was hypertension which should have been controlled and properly monitored if the defendant (hospital) was to reduce the risk of a stroke. The court also has no doubt that proper monitoring and the earlier administration of anti-platelet therapy were obvious elements of appropriate care. But, in order to succeed in this litigation, the claimant (Dr Hannibal) must demonstrate that – but for the purported failures [of the hospital] – a stroke would have been averted,” added Justice Ellis.

The judge also noted Dr Hannibal’s failure to provide his medical records from the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. The medical expert, Dr Hardie, had suggested that those records would have provided ‘conclusive evidence’ as to what caused the stroke.

In the meantime, the judge noted a number of circumstances under which the management of the hospital could have been considered negligent in relation to the care provided to Dr Hannibal.

Among them, she reasoned, is the hospital’s failure to adequately monitor the patient, and a general lack of urgency on the part of the medical staff. The judge also noted that those treating Dr Hannibal failed to, at the very least, consider thrombolytic therapy after it became clear that the patient had deteriorated neurologically on the night of December 17, 2012.

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