Gynaecologist loses negligence case at Privy Council

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

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A gynaecologist who was ordered a decade ago to compensate the husband of a woman who died while giving birth to her fourth child in 2003, has lost his appeal at the Privy Council.

On Monday, five Privy Council judges, Lords Hodge, Kitchin, Leggatt, Burrows and Dame Nicola Davies, dismissed the appeal of Dr Kong Sheik Achong Low who was found negligent in the death of Karen Lezama and ordered by Justice Ricky Rahim in 2012 to compensate her widower, Brian, who filed the negligence lawsuit.

Achong Low appealed, but his challenge was dismissed by Justices of Appeal Nolan Bereaux, Rajendra Narine and Mark Mohammed in 2018.

Although Bereaux, who delivered the ruling, found errors in the judge’s original findings on negligence, he said in his own assessment of the evidence, Rahim “came to the correct conclusion.”

He also said the likely cause of Lezama’s death was massive post-partum haemorrhage (PPH) and Achong Low’s treatment of the patient fell below standard.

“Negligent treatment on a balance of probabilities, was the cause of the demise of Mrs Lezama and the appellant is liable in damages.”

Lezama, 41, died on April 6, 2003, at Stanley’s Nursing Home in St Clair after giving birth to her stillborn son, who was named Ryan. Her widower testified at the trial that his wife had gestational diabetes and was a “known bleeder.” Achong Low said he was not aware of Karen’s condition and did not know of complications during her three other pregnancies. Lezama claimed Achong Low failed to do blood investigations on his wife and failed to have enough blood on hand at the clinic, considering his wife’s condition.

At the appeal in London, Achong Low’s attorneys contended the Appeal Court failed to properly analyse the evidence and expert opinion and erred when it found the doctor did not properly diagnose her and its finding on the likely cause of Lezama’s death.

“We disagree. We are satisfied that the court carefully analysed the facts and the evidence of the experts and properly concluded on the evidence that the appellant was negligent in his treatment of Mrs Lezama…” the Privy Council ruled.

“There is nothing in this challenge… The findings made by the Court of Appeal were findings of fact and of negligence,” said Dame Nicola Davies, who delivered the ruling. She said Rahim and the Appeal Court were correct in their findings since negligence was part of the original claim.

“The duty to treat Mrs Lezama was that of the appellant, the emergency was his as the treating clinician.”

The judgment said it was undisputed Lezama suffered PPH immediately after the still birth which led to disseminated intra-vascular coagulopathy (DIC) – a rare and serious condition that disrupts blood flow – and death.

“The Court of Appeal, in approaching the issue of causation, rightly considered the evidence not only of the clinicians but also that of Mrs Lezama’s husband who graphically described the bleeding, the nature of and the amount of blood lost by his wife and the chaos in the delivery room,” the judgment said.

In dismissing Achong Low’s appeal, the Privy Council directed that there be payment of the compensation ordered by the court to Lezama’s witness, including whatever interest had accrued since the order was made.

In November 2015, the sum awarded by the Master was paid into court by Achong Low.

Achong Low was represented by attorneys Ian Benjamin,SC, and Pierre Rudder while Brian Lezama was represented by attorneys Theresa Hadad, Patricia Dindyal and Nera Narine.