Law suits against the medical profession are on the increase. A number of factors have contributed to this. Developments in medical science and medical technology have assisted the medical practitioner in diagnosing, detecting, preventing, curing and treating diseases and abnormalities in the human body. These developments have placed greater obligations on medical practitioners to acquire sufficient knowledge in their areas and relevant related areas of expertise to practise with due diligence and care since their obligations give rise to corresponding rights of patients.
Years ago when a child was born with a condition such as Down Syndrome or spina bifida it was regarded as a sad twist of fate. Nowadays in the modern world the immediate question is whether the doctor was negligent in having failed to detect the condition. An orthopaedic surgeon should not advise, say, an amputation of a septic foot without considering and drawing attention to the great strides in microsurgery which might save it. The prudent medical practitioner will have to keep abreast of new developments in medicine and science since the legal order transforms with the progressions in society and the spectre of liability looms larger with advancement of the human condition.
This is demonstrated by the recent case of Friedman v Glicksman which is discussed in the article entitled “Wrongful birth and wrongful life – new causes of action ?”
Another factor which has impacted upon the increase in medical negligence suits is public awareness. Whether this is due in some measure to sensational TV programmes of dramatic court scenes, the increasing emphasis is placed on the acknowledgement and protection of human rights or simply education, the fact remains that many patients no longer perceive their doctors as infallible beings beyond the reach of the law. This in turn raises the issue of the changing role of the doctor in society and the concomitant change in the patient – doctor relationship.
B. Com, LLB
Senior Partner : Malcolm Lyons and Munro
Partner : Malcolm Lyons, Munro and Sohn –
Malcolm Lyons is the author of Preparation and Presentation of MVA Claims, published on behalf of the Association of Law Societies , and co-author of Volume 12, ‘Insurance’ , of the encyclopaedic work, The Law of South Africa. He has lectured on third party insurance in the practical legal training courses of the Association of Law Societies since their inception in 1981, and in the Postgraduate Programme of the Johannesburg Hospital Department of Orthopaedic Surgery on “How to prepare a medico- legal report’.
He presented a paper at the 1993 National Medico legal Conference and was co-chairman in 1994 and 1995.
He is a member of the International Medical Society of Paraplegia , SA Spinal Injuries Association , International Brain Injury Association , SA Clinical Neuropsychology Association , American Trial Lawyers Association and UK Association of Personal Injury Lawyers.