FRANCISTOWN: No-nonsense High Court judge Lot Moroka, has accused psychiatrist Dr. Paul Sidandi of giving biased evidence in court over a child’s death to cover hospital negligence.
Dr Sidandi, based at Nyangabwe Referral Hospital, was an expert witness in a case in which the hospital was facing a P10 million lawsuit for causing death to a 13-year-old girl due to medical negligence.
According to evidence before court, the deceased (name withheld) was admitted at the hospital on the 9th of June 2010.
On the same date she underwent a surgical operation to remove her appendix. After the operation and her discharge, she experienced abdominal pains which progressed to diarrhoea, cramps and vomiting. She went in and out of the hospital through several admissions and discharges. She explained that she had passed a gauze through her rectum.
Her condition kept on deteriorating and on the 24th of June 2011 she passed away.
The mother to the deceased (Lalu Mazhani) who is the plaintiff in the matter then instituted an action for damages against Nyangabwe Referral Hospital for medical negligence on the 14 of July 2014.
As per a report from an independent clinical psychologist Dr Selemogwe Matsetse, the plaintiff was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to the loss of her daughter in August 2017. The report was tendered as evidence in court during trial.In her evaluation of the plaintiff the Psychologist said she met her in three sessions and it emerged that she was a broken woman due to the loss of her child.
“The plaintiff has been showing signs of avoidance, she experiences unexpected involuntary and intrusive upsetting memories of the traumatic event that is the botched operation and the untimely death of her daughter. She suffers hopelessness and despair. She also suffers flashbacks and high blood pressure,” reads the report.
However, representing government Wedu Maphane from the Attorney General brought in Dr Sidandi, a government psychiatrist to give evidence against the plaintiff.
In his evidence he countered the claim that the plaintiff has suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on the basis that the child had been ill for a very long time before her death. He said the death of her child could not be traumatic as it was not sudden.
He disputed the evidence of the psychologist that the plaintiff suffers from Post Traumatic Stress disorder due to her loss. He also asserted that the child was successfully treated at Nyangabwe Hospital in 2011 adding that her demise from surgery complications was not from the condition she suffered.
Delivering judgement last week Justice Moroka could not tolerate what Dr Sidandi had told court. He said the psychiatrist sought to extend his evidence to denial of liability by the hospital for the death of the plaintiff’s daughter when the hospital had admitted liability.
He said Dr Sidandi was not an expert but a partisan witness whose role was to insulate Nyangabwe Referral hospital from any form of blame from the death of the plaintiff’s daughter.
“This was rather unfortunate. The growth in specialized fields such as physics, biology, chemistry, psychology, psychiatry and medicine has increasingly led to the use of specialized expert evidence to solve complex legal questions in both criminal and civil matters,” said the Judge.
He said it is important to note that there are certain cases in which expert testimony is pivotal and without which judges will be unable to make appropriate inferences or reach fair conclusions. Judge Moroka said for this reason, it is important for experts who testify before courts not to act as hired guns who tailor their opinions to advance the case of those who pay them. He said they have a duty to place before court an unbiased opinion.
“The expert’s opinion should be originally objective and unbiased. The expert should be willing to make concessions on matters that fall beyond the area of his or her expertise or not known when expressing an opinion,” explained the Judge.
He added that in this case, Dr Sidandi did not have the opportunity to assess the plaintiff and merely made desktop critique of the psychologist’s report. He said an after the fact desktop analyses of what the plaintiff could have possibly have gone through or not gone through cannot be a substitute for a proper clinical evaluation of her condition.
“I have already observed earlier that Dr Sidandi adopted the posture of an advocate for the defence’s position rather than that of an objective expert. The example for this trait is in his attempt to exonerate the hospital from liability for the death of the plaintiff’s daughter. He said in his evidence in chief during trial that the deceased child was successfully treated at Nyangabwe hospital in July 2011 and that her demise from surgery complications was not from the condition she suffered,”said Justice Moroka
The judge admitted Dr Selemogo’s opinion as an objective representation of facts and dismissed Dr Sidandi’s evidence as unhelpful. The Judge said the plaintiff has consequently proven that the death of her daughter was as a result of negligence from Nyanyabwe Hospital causing her Post Traumatic Disorder. He however said the P10 million damage suit was excessive and she was awarded P1.5 million and the defendant was ordered to pay the costs of the lawsuit.