Health dept settles negligence claim in secret

2016-02-24 12:19
One of the biggest claims for medical negligence in KZN settled out of court.

One of the biggest claims for medical negligence in KZN settled out of court. (File)

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Pietermaritzburg - One of the biggest claims lodged for medical negligence against KZN’s Health Department was settled out of court amid a veil of secrecy on Tuesday.

The department agreed last year to pay an initial sum of R5 million to Ntombenhle Mkhize, mother of a boy suffering from cerebral palsy, but was facing a demand for a total payment of R36 million.

Having admitted that the boy’s disability was caused by negligence on the part of state hospital employees at Madadeni Hospital, lawyers representing Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo and those for Mkhize held talks at the high court this week, which resulted in a settlement agreement.

However, journalists were on Tuesday refused sight of the court order, which was handed down in chambers by Acting Judge Kobus Booyens, and were told that the settlement was “confidential”.

Durban attorney Michael Friedman, who represents Mkhize but was not present during the discussions at court on Tuesday, expressed surprise when told that the settlement was not made public.

After calling a representative of his office who had dealt with the matter at court, Friedman told The Witness that “counsel for the MEC had argued that the order must be confidential”.

“Our representative believed it was public information, but we were over-ruled and the judge ordered that the settlement be kept confidential,” he said. “It was not done at our request,” he said.

Friedman has been outspoken in his criticism of the KZN Health Department for defending medical negligence claims and incurring legal costs right up to the trial stage in many cases, before conceding liability at the last minute.

He said on Tuesday he was aware of four other cases that were adjourned in recent weeks at the MEC’s behest, and in respect of which the department tendered costs for the adjournments.

The Witness sent an e-mail to KZN Health communications official Agiza Hlongwane, requesting him to inquire from MEC Dhlomo whether it was in the public interest for the terms of the Mkhize settlement to be kept secret, considering that taxpayers’ money is being spent.

Hlongwane referred The Witness to the official spokesperson, Sam Mkhwanazi, who responded: “I was not at court so I have not seen the court papers”.

The claim was lodged by Mkhize on behalf of her son, Thabiso Thwala, who was born at Madadeni Hospital in August 2009 after a prolonged labour.

According to the court records, Mkhize was in labour for three days, yet a Caesarean section was not performed. After his birth, it took a doctor 15 minutes to resuscitate Thabiso.

The amount claimed was for pain and suffering, as well as the boy’s past and future medical costs, and his special needs.

Last year Mkhize told The Witness Thabiso (now six years old) is severely mentally and physically handicapped. He needs constant care and two caregivers work shifts to look after him. She said he was not able to go to school and needed specialised equipment and therapy to cope with his condition.

Friedman confirmed at the time that summons was first issued against the province in connection with the matter in March 2013, and the department admitted liability in May 2014.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  health

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