Wagga Wagga Hospital Found Not Liable in Premature Birth Case

Date: Feb 19, 2020

The Wagga Wagga Base Hospital was found to be not liable for the lung disease that a child accrued as a result of his premature birth there. The judge in this case concluded that the hospital acted with an acceptable standard of care and that a long delay between the birth and litigation was too long for the case to be ruled in the child’s favour.

The Case

The litigant child was born at 27 weeks – an extremely premature age. His mother was rushed to Wagga Wagga Base Hospital and received proper medical attention. While the child survived, he was eventually diagnosed with hyaline membrane disease, a rare condition affecting the lungs.

The lawsuit, Coffey & Anor v Murrumbidgee Local Health District, argues that the hospital is liable for the boy’s disease, as well as associated duress and medical costs, because the staff there was only accredited to handle births for babies who had gestated more than 32 weeks. The suit also posits that the mother should have been transferred to Canberra Hospital – which had the necessary accreditation for dealing with extremely premature births – once contractions had begun.

The hospital countered by making a case that its staff had acted appropriately under section 50 of New South Wales’ Civil Liability Act 2002. The section sets certain standards of care that must be maintained and stipulates that medical professionals are obligated to act in a highly rational fashion. The hospital argued that it met all of these standards throughout all stages of the case.

The judge ultimately sided with the hospital, agreeing with its assessment of section 50. The verdict noted that there was no previous warning that the woman would go into labour early, and as such, it would not necessarily have been possible to relocate her to Canberra after labour began. The judge also cited the long period between the boy’s birth and diagnosis and the beginning of litigation and felt that it fell outside of an appropriate limitation period.

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