JUDICIAL RECOGNITION OF THE APPLICATION OF THE MAXIM RES IPSA LOQUITUR TO A CASE OF MEDICAL NEGLIGENCE Lungile Ntsele v MEC for Health, Gauteng Provincial Government (unreported as yet, Case Number: 2009/52394 (GSJ) dated 24 October 2012)
Keywords:medical negligence, maxim of res ipsa loquitu
It is trite law, in context of medical negligence, that the onus of establishing civil liability on the doctor’s part lies with the patient and liability must be established on a preponderance of probabilities. It is to be noted that, should the plaintiff be unable to prove his/her case on a preponderance of probabilities, judgment will be given in favour of the defendant; a court may, however, also order absolution from
the instance. In delict, the plaintiff bears the onus to prove a wrongful act/omission on the part of the physician, as well as the element of fault (in the form of negligence) and that the act or omission caused him to suffer damages or personal injury. Where a defendant raises a special defence such as consent, contributory negligence or prescription, the onus of proof will be on the defendant. Generally, however, the application of the maxim of res ipsa loquitur is treated by the courts as a particular form of inferential reason, requiring careful scrutiny and giving rise to an inference of negligence rather than a presumption of negligence. The South African courts thus far have been reluctant to apply the maxim to cases of medical negligence, despite persuasive legal arguments that have been put forward that the maxim should be applied in specific circumstances with regard to the proof of medical negligence. In this respect general principles for the effective application of the maxim in cases of medical negligence, are, inter alia, that principles of procedural equality and constitutional considerations dictate that the maxim be applied in cases of medical negligence. It is for this reason that the present judgment under discussion (in tandem with s 27 of the Constitution) is instructive, despite the majority judgment of the Appellate Division (as it was
then) in 1924, in Van Wyk v Lewis (supra), where it was held that the maxim does not find application in cases of medical negligence.
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