Bolitho v City of Hackney Health Authority 1998: Professional negligence

Areas of applicable law: Tort law – Duty of care – professional negligence

Main arguments in this case: A medical professional can be held negligent even if the standard of care he or she applied in treating a patient was in accordance with the other professional in his or her field.

The fact of the case: In Bolitho v City & Hackney Health Authority (1997) a two year old boy was admitted to hospital with breathing problems. The boy was not seen by a doctor and while he was waiting treatment the boy suffered another breathing difficulty which proved fatal and he died. The mother of the boy sued the hospital on the basis that if the boy had been seen by a doctor and was intubated to ease the breathing difficulty, he would have survived.

The female doctor on duty argued that even if she had seen the boy, she would not have gone ahead with intubation. The doctor further produced expert opinions from other medical professionals who supported her claim that intubation was not the correct treatment.

According to the Bolam precedent, the doctor was not negligent as her testimony was backed up by other medical experts. The court also agreed that the Bolam test was still the right one in such situations however the court held the defendant negligent. It said that just because the doctor’s actions were in accordance with the accepted medical practice, it did not mean that it was also reasonable and satisfactory.

What Bolitho stipulates that a court is not under any pressure to NOT find a professional liable just because his actions were compatible with other professionals from the same field. The actions also have to be logical and reasonable to the court.

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