On Wednesday, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) heard the final appeal of the case between 12-year-old Janae Matute of Roaring Creek, Cayo, her mother Georgia, and former attendant physician Dr. Raju Meenavalli, in person at Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.
Georgia Matute gave birth to Janae prematurely but because of post-natal complications, the Belmopan Comprehensive School student contracted cerebral palsy which has left her permanently physically disabled.
At the Supreme Court, the Matutes were awarded Belize’s largest ever medical malpractice award – $2.6 million for Janae and a further half a million for Georgia.
At the Court of Appeal, the decision was upheld and damages slightly reduced, leading to the current appeal. Attorney for Meenavalli, Senior Counsel Godfrey Smith, argued that the Matutes, represented by Senior Counsel Fred Lumor, failed to prove Dr. Meenavalli’s role in Janae’s paralysis.
“Essentially then your honours, what the appellant is saying on the issue of causation distilled into a paragraph is that the respondents did not discharge their burden of proving on a balance of probabilities, that but for the actions or omissions of the appellant, Baby Janae would not have suffered Cerebral Palsy. Cerebral Palsy is important as opposed to any other disease. The condition that is being complained about is the ultimate injury, Cerebral Palsy”.
And Smith says the Government is to blame as Dr. Meenavalli worked under them.
Attorney Godfrey Smith: “The appellant had to perform the c-section on December 28th because of the threat of premature labour, given that the baby was just 36 weeks of gestational age. Would the standard be and on whom would the standard lie, the doctor or the hospital through its chief of staff to have a pediatrician present. That can only be appropriate medical men. We might speculate and say it seems common sense and appropriate, but you are talking about medical protocols and hospital protocols. It may that his presence might have been useful and with hind sight which is always 20-20, we know the circumstances; we know the situation, so, obviously I can’t stand here and say to your honours it wouldn’t have been useful. It perhaps would have been useful. However, we are dealing with the question of liability. Liability has to be determined based on a standard”.
In reply, Mr. Lumor charged that Dr. Meenavalli alone bears the result of his actions in Janae’s case.
“The depart there also said that this particular medical evidence that is not necessarily need a petition to be able to explain it to the court, meaning that if you are a general doctor, you want to deliver a baby three times, what are the precautionary measures that he should take? The appellant did not challenge the evidence of Dr. Martinez after the control of the environment by injecting steroids. So, if you make a decision to deliver a baby from the 7th, on the 10th you might start to just making those steps. If you are going to deliver the baby premature, you will need at least the pediatrician. The pediatrician takes over; immediately, the baby is born. A child with undeveloped lungs, Mr. Martinez explained, the lungs collapse and the oxygen will not go to the brain. The appellant himself says that it needs a specialist to highly membrane disease and ease causes. In his own medical report, he says that that is one of the conditions that Janaeh suffers after the baby was in the care of Dr. Magana, his expert. We now know that that is not possible”.
The CCJ has reserved judgment.