Judgment reserved in HIV+ woman’s suit against dept

2009-04-23 00:00

High Court Judge Chiman Patel has reserved judgment in a civil trial arising from allegations by a Gauteng woman that she contracted HIV as a result of negligence by paramedics at an accident scene on the N3 at Mooi River on August 31, 2000.

The woman was in a vehicle which collided with a pedestrian, Crophet Mandla Mthalane (36) of Bruntville, who died at the scene.

The woman alleges that paramedics who treated her transferred the HI-virus from his body into her bloodstream.

The woman instituted a R2,1 million damages claim against the KwaZulu-Natal Health Ministry, but by agreement the court will only determine the issue of liability at this stage.

If the woman succeeds in her claim the court will then determine the amount of damages she is entitled to.

Advocate Rishi Seegobin SC for the MEC of Health has argued that the HIV status of the pedestrian has not been proved.

He said statistics given during the trial to the effect that 30% of black males (in Mthalane’s age group) in the province were HIV positive during the year 2000, necessarily meant that 70% were negative.

“Why shouldn’t he [Mthalane] fall into the 70% that were negative? Why should the court find as a probability that he was among the 30% that were positive?” he asked.

Seegobin said the only evidence suggesting that Mthalane was HIV-positive was the discovery in his diary of telephone numbers (in his writing) for an Aids helpline and for Lifeline.

Blood tests were never carried out on his body to establish his HIV status.

Counsel for the woman, advocate Dana du Plessis, submitted that the court should find that it is “probable” based on the evidence as a whole, that Mthalane was HIV-positive when he died.

He said the evidence led has excluded any other source of infection to the woman, who tested HIV negative on her admission to hospital, and tested positive just months later in October 2 000.

An incident in which a nurse had pricked her finger with a needle had led to both her and the woman being tested in hospital and both were negative.

The woman’s husband has also continued to test negative and she testified that her relationship with him was monogamous.

“The only possible and probable cause of her infection was the accident,” Du Plessis said.

He urged the court to accept the testimony of an eyewitness who testified that ambulancemen first stopped next to the body of the pedestrian and “worked” on him, before they came to treat her friend.

The witness said they had “manipulated” the woman’s open head injury, applied a bandage and also tried to insert an intravenous drip in her arm.

Seegobin submitted that the witness concerned was not a reliable witness.

He argued that the court should accept the testimony of paramedic, Afzal Dayal, to the effect that he and his colleague attended to the woman motorist first and that he had thereafter gone to check the pedestrian and certified him dead at the request of police.

Dayal maintained he changed his gloves in between, and denied that he treated the woman after he had touched the body of the dead man.

ingrido@witness.co.za

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