How To Sue For Medical Negligence

How To Sue For Medical Negligence

As Nigerians, we have all heard the story of friends or family members who have gone into the hospital for routine procedures or for similar minor medical conditions, and the next you hear is that they have sadly passed away at the hospital. Examples of some scenarios that we have unfortunately heard about is when people go into the hospital and are misdiagnosed, or when they are diagnosed properly but given the wrong medication, or when they are operated on and foreign objects are left in the body of patient…the list is endless.

Now we all know about the issues which sadly plague the health sector in Nigeria – underfunded hospitals, understaffed hospitals, unpaid doctors, intermittent power supply, wave of health workers who have japa’d…the list is probably endless.

Those are facts which any honest Nigerian would agree are true, the vast majority of our hospitals face these issues. Fact! However, several them also have issues where the problem is due to negligence or what you could all the human factor.

It is for those cases where issues are caused by the negligence or lack of proper care by the hospitals, and their medical staff that we have written this.

Who can sue ?

Generally, only the person who has been a victim of the medical error can sue, however the situation is different if the patient has passed away or the patient is a child. If the patient has passed away, then the next of kin of the patient e.g. husband, wife, parents, children etc can sue for compensation. If a child, it will be the parent or the legal guardian of the child.

When can a person sue?

Doctors, nurses, dentists, opticians and all other medical professionals owe what is legally known as a duty of care towards their patients. When this duty is breached and the patient suffers some damage then it gives rise to a potential claim for compensation.

It is important to note at this point however, that the law does not require the medical professionals to be perfect every time they carry out their job, 100% perfection is not humanly possible. What the law requires is that the medical professional must exercise a reasonable standard of care from them.

Every case is individual with varying factors to be taken into account if this standard has been met, so if you think you may have a claim then it is very important that you speak to a lawyer and they will be able to consider the law and advise you accordingly.

When can a person sue for compensation?

The critical thing when suing for compensation, the claimant (the person suing) must have suffered some harm as a result of the act being complained about. For instance, you could sue a doctor for negligence in misdiagnosing an illness, however if for instance a person is misdiagnosed for illness A, when he has illness B, and then prescribed medication which he takes, and the medication cures illness B, he or she will be unable to sue for negligence in the misdiagnosis because he has not really suffered any actual damage from the misdiagnosis (although the person could report the doctor to the medical regulatory body).

How long do you have to make a claim and how much compensation can you receive?

You have a period of three years (it varies in some States) to make a claim for compensation and this time period runs from the date when you first received the negligent treatment complained of or the date on which you first discovered that the treatment was negligent.

As each case is individual, the amount of compensation awarded will vary from claim to claim. However, there are certain things the court will consider when deciding the amount of compensation – this includes factors such as a person’s age, severity of injury, employment status and associated losses caused as a result of the negligent treatment etc. However, we have heard of cases in Nigeria, where the claimant has either been awarded by the court or negotiated with the defendant, a settlement worth the equivalent of millions of dollars – and we have seen settlements of a few hundred thousand naira. It all depends on the case.

What Next?

Have you or someone you know been a victim of medical negligence in Nigeria, and you are wondering whether you have sufficient grounds to sue the hospital and doctors?

If yes, then you should speak to a lawyer to review your case. The amount you pay for a consultation to determine whether you have a viable legal case could be well worth it.


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