Why Only Media Practitioners, And Not Medical Practitioners?

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

The recent report that Montserrado County Edward Forh has instituted a legal action of medical malpractice against the John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital (JFK) for the death of his daughter which has sparked debate in some quarters, with some opposing the action of the lawmaker, while others said it was necessary because some medical practitioners in the country have been responsible for the death of some citizens through negligence. For some, it was wrong for a lawmaker, an official of government, to take a government institution to court.

Reporting on the lawsuit, THE DAILY OBSERVER on Monday said, “Exactly ten months after Montserrado County District #13 Representative Edward Forh’s daughter Nakita died on the bare floor in the compound of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital, as nurses there declined to attend to her, a lawyer representing the family has filed a US$25m lawsuit for damages and wrongful death against several staff of the hospital. The lawsuit was filed before the Civil Law Court last week Friday.

“Nakita, who suffered from asthma, died on September 27, 2014, at the hospital compound while gasping for breadth during the heat of the Ebola crisis in the county.

“Those accused of being responsible for Nakita’s death include; Dr. Wvannie-Mac Scott-McDonald, JFK General Administrator; Munah Tarpeh, Deputy for Administration; Tannie Sneh Nursing Supervisor; Mary Howard Nyaquie, Administrator; Dr. Korto Dorbor, Dr. Bility C. Johnson, Chief Medical Officer; Dr. David Okiror, Staff Physician; Professor Joseph Njoh, Department Chairman on Internal Medicine; and the administrator of the Ministry of Health.

“The lawsuit against the healthcare practitioners according to Attorney Arthur Johnson, lead counsel for the Forh family, is based on what he described as “very devastating and frustrating” experience, which he claimed caused the family consequential damage and unforgettable state of trauma in which their daughter died.

“Atty. Johnson further argued that Nakita died in the arms of her father on the grounds of the hospital staff; who refused to allow Nakita access to the nebulizer, a breathing instrument at the hospital.

“Since the defendants refused to personally use the nebulizer to allow our daughter to breathe through said instrument, and they refused to help and exercise their duty of care by taking to the lawmaker’s daughter, who died as a result of their refusal to care for the deceased,” he stated in the suit; therefore, Atty Johnson pleaded with the court to rule against the defendants as liable and award not less than US$10 million in general damages; US$5m in punitive damages; another US$5 in compensatory damages, and US$5m in consequential damages. Immediately, after the lawsuit was filed, Rep. Forh told journalists that he was going to get justice.”

Whatever may be the arguments or views of individuals on this matter, I would not look at the merits and demerits, on the issue as to whether or not medical practitioners or institution can be used. Generally, it is a feeling in this country to let go alleged or reported medical practitioners or institutions, suspected of being responsible for the deaths of patients or harm or injuries done to patients on the belief that “no one dies before his or her time, therefore, there is no need to sue for the person’s death.

As a result, I am not aware of any medical practitioner or institution being faced with a legal action, as it has been in the case of media practitioners or institutions. Even in some cases involving media institution, it is always handled the “Liberian Way” through the intervention of others, thus leading to discontinuation of the legal action. The only time I heard about suspected medical malpractice case was prior to the civil war with one Allen, perhaps a relative of Chief Cyril Allen or Ambassador William Allen, whose death at the time, was blamed on negligence by a clinic in Sinkor.

But in the case of alleged medical malpractices in this county, not much has been heard about this. It is always a threat to sue or vocal attacks on a particular medical institution. As a student of law, I am aware of many cases in other countries about medical malpractices, which sometimes, result to huge payment to victims.

Such payments or settlements are not intended to bring the dead back to life or “restore” the damage or damage done to the patient, but to serve as a lesson to others to exercise care in dealing with sick people. Sometimes the suits of medical malpractices are based on the legal doctrine in Torts known as, “ res ipsa loquitur,” a Latin phrase which means, “ the thing speaks for itself.”

Similarly, for the media practitioners or institutions for reporting falsehood or unethical reportage about issues that impinge on people’s reputation and institutions, it is also not intended to repair the reported damage done to the person’s reputation, but to bring some relief to them for the psychological pains or agony suffered by the person, as money cannot “repair’ the damage done, if it is proven to be true. Also, it is intended to guide media practitioners of how they go about reporting on issues that borders on people’s reputation.

Medical malpractice “refers to professional negligence by a health care professional or provider in which treatment provided was substandard, and caused harm, injury or death to a patient. In the majority of cases, the medical malpractice or negligence involved a medical error, possibly in diagnosis, medication dosage, health management, treatment or aftercare.”

Research shows that some examples of hospital errors included: Giving the patient the wrong dosage, giving the patient the wrong medication, leaving things inside the patient’s body after surgery, misdiagnosis, operating on the wrong part of the body, persistent back pain after surgery and, potentially fatal staph infection. Sometimes the error may be an act of omission, failing to act whenever necessary or negligence on one’s failure to exercise care.

While it may be rare about medical malpractice cases in this country, it is an issue in many including our traditional friend, the United States of America. Research says that over 350,000 malpractices were claimed in the United States over the past 25 years and that there are between 15,000 and 19,000 malpractice suits against US doctors annually.

Also, a 2009 study carried out by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Department of Medicine found that the majority of American doctors will face a malpractice lawsuit at some time during their professional careers. However, the risk of having to pay out any money to a plaintiff is fairly low. It is said that primary care doctors mainly sued for drug errors and missed diagnoses – researchers reported in BMJ Open that most malpractice suits against primary care doctors in the USA, UK, Australia, France and Canada are for missed diagnoses (mainly related to cancer, heart attack and meningitis) and drug errors.

With this information, it is clear that medical malpractice practices are of serious concerns in other countries, while they may not be in this country because of the belief that “no one dies before his or her time.”

As I raise this issue of medical malpractices, it should not be misconstrued as adjudging JFK guilty, as under our jurisprudence, “an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.” The intent of this piece is to disabuse our mind from the belief that medical practitioners or institutions cannot be sued if there is a probable cause to do so, as the law on this is intended for persons injured or harmed medically to recover.

Until we realize that medical practitioners like media practitioners can be used for harm and injury caused people, I Rest My Case.