In Practice

Public health officials and MECs should be held liable for harm caused to patients through incompetence, indifference, maladministration or negligence regarding the availability of hospital equipment

David Jan McQuoid-Mason


There have been several reports of state hospitals not having functional equipment such as radiological equipment. Where these are due to incompetence, Indifference, maladministration or negligence by the public officials concerned, they may be held personally liable for the resulting harm to patients. However, the courts have often observed that where the State has been sued vicariously for the wrongs of public officials, it has not obtained reimbursement from the offending official. It has therefore been suggested that irresponsible public servants should be sued in their personal capacity (in addition to the State), to prevent taxpayers always having to pay for their misdeeds. If an individual public official cannot afford to pay all the damages awarded, the injured party can recover the balance from the State by citing it as a vicarious joint wrongdoer.

Author's affiliations

David Jan McQuoid-Mason, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa

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Public health; Public officials; Personal liability; Vicarious liability; Defective equipment

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2016;106(7):681-683. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2016.v106i7.10722

Article History

Date submitted: 2016-02-29
Date published: 2016-06-17

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