On 10th October 2018 the Supreme Court unanimously upheld an appeal by the Claimant that a hospital, whose A&E reception staff told a patient he would have to wait up to five hours before receiving treatment for a head injury, was in breach of it’s duty of care.
The Claimant, Michael Mark Junior Darnley, who was then aged 26, was assaulted in the late afternoon of 17 May 2010. Later the same day he telephoned a friend and told him about the assault. He said that he felt unwell and had a headache which was getting worse. His friend advised him to seek medical attention and drove Mr Darnley to the Accident & Emergency department at Mayday Hospital (now known as Croydon University Hospital).
Mr Darnley gave an account of the incident to the A&E receptionist but the receptionist told him that he would need to take a seat and wait up to 4 or 5 hours before he could be seen. The receptionist did not notify Mr Darnley that the hospital had a priority triage system and that patients with head injuries were fast tracked and would be triaged within 30 minutes.
As a result of this omission Mr Darney did not wait in A&E because he had started to feel very unwell; he asked his friend after waiting 19 minutes to take him home where his condition worsened. He was subsequently taken by ambulance back to Mayday hospital where he was diagnosed as having a serious head injury with bleeding on the brain. Mr Darnley was left with a permanent brain injury and severe paralysis to the left side of his body.
The Court in the first instance and at appeal ruled that the incorrect information being given by the receptionist did not amount to a breach and the Court of Appeal held that:
- The Trust did not owe Mr Darnley a duty to advise him about waiting times,
- The damage he suffered was outside the scope of any duty that was owed to him, and
- There was no causal link between any breach and his injuries; he was told to wait, but chose to leave.
Mr Darnley’s defeat sat very uncomfortably with many Clinical Negligence lawyers.
The Supreme Court overturned these decisions and Mr Darnley was successful in showing that the receptionist owed a duty of care and that the duty was breached. Furthermore the chain of causation was not broken because it was foreseeable that Mr Darnley may have left A&E after being advised that he would have to wait in the region of 4 to 5 hours.
This decision came as welcome news to many, who had felt that Mr Darnley had been denied justice previously. Of course he would rely on the information given to him at reception and it was easy to see that he would have stayed, considering he was feeling so unwell, if he knew that an assessment of his injury would take place within 30 minutes, merely 11 minutes after he left.
The Supreme Court’s decision is undoubtedly the right decision; Mr Darnley should be compensated for his injuries and patients should be able to rely on information given to them by medical and non-medical staff.
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