Refusal for religious reasons of a blood transfusion for her husband by wife as legal proxy ignored by the doctors – can the wife claim damages?
A scenario is presented in which a wife’s request for religious reasons, and in accordance with her husband’s wishes, that her husband not be given a potentially life-saving blood transfusion was ignored by the doctors. Her husband subsequently died. The question then arose whether her husband’s estate, or she as his legal proxy, could bring an action for pain and suffering and sentimental damages against the doctors on behalf of her husband. When a patient dies and medical malpractice is involved, the patient’s legal rights are extinguished, and their estate cannot begin or continue with a legal action for pain and suffering or sentimental damages – unless the pleadings in the case have been closed (litis contestatio). The result is that the estate or the spouse of a deceased patient may not sue for pain and suffering or sentimental damages on behalf of such patient. The spouse may only claim damages for pain and suffering and sentimental damages if he or she can show that the defendants’ conduct regarding the deceased directly affected the spouse concerned. Where emotional shock was caused negligently, a spouse may only recover patrimonial damages and damages for pain and suffering. Where such shock was caused by intentional conduct, additional sentimental damages may also be claimed.
D J McQuoid-Mason, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
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Date published: 2021-12-02
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