What is the biggest payout for medical negligence in the ACT?

Published 22 Nov 2017

Author: Gerard Malouf

Medical negligence payouts can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the biggest settlements may result in a plaintiff receiving compensation worth millions.

So what is the largest payout that a hospital in the ACT has ever made? This is a difficult question to answer, as many claims are often settled before they reach a public hearing in court.

As part of the payout agreement, the plaintiff is usually asked to sign a confidentiality clause that prevents them from discussing the amount and terms of the settlement.

However, if medical practitioners choose to defend a claim, the results become a matter of public record. We’ve scoured the ACT Supreme Court website to identify the biggest payout in recent years.

Baby develops cerebral palsy due to medical negligence

In 2004, a severely disabled woman was awarded nearly $8.4 million after Justice Malcolm Gray ruled that her doctors were negligent during her delivery as a baby.

The plaintiff, who was born in 1980, developed cerebral palsy due to brain damage she sustained while being born.

Her mother was a high-risk pregnancy, and the obstetrician who oversaw the birth was accused of several instances of medical negligence, including:

  • Not recognising foetal distress quickly enough;
  • Delaying a caesarean birth, despite the plaintiff’s mother experiencing two genital haemorrhages; and
  • A failure to diagnose placenta praevia, which is a condition where the placenta is abnormally located within the uterus.

In a letter to a fellow obstetrician following the birth, the defendant doctor said:

“We have had a disaster with [the patient’s mother] … although the baby is alive it appears to have severe neurological damage and, frankly, I hope it doesn’t survive. I feel that I didn’t do too much good last Sunday.”

A record medical negligence payout

When awarding the settlement, Justice Gray admitted it was a “very significant figure” and pointed to the serious disabilities that the plaintiff has suffered as a result of the defendant’s negligence.

Future care costs alone were calculated at more than $4.3 million, as the woman needs 24-hour support from two attendants.

“The purpose of damages is to award such [a] sum of money as will, as nearly as possible, put the plaintiff in the same position as if she had not been injured by the defendants’ negligence,” Justice Gray explained.