A Delta State High Court has awarded N10 million in damages against the Delta State Commissioner of Justice and Attorney General, the Hospitals Management Board (HMB), and two others over the death of a pregnant woman in November 2012.
The court ruled that the pregnant woman, Elo Joseph, died due to medical negligence.
The defendants charged are the Delta State Hospital Management Board, Delta State Attorney General Peter Mrakpor, Dr. Nwabua, and Dr. Mike Ozoemena.
Mrs. Joseph’s husband, Onome Joseph, had filed a suit against the defendants in 2013. Oghenejabor Ikimi, a human rights lawyer and Executive Director of the Centre for the Vulnerable and the Underprivileged (CENTREP), represented Mr. Joseph in the trial.
Mr. Ikimi argued that the late Mrs. Joseph died due to negligence and the unexplained absence of members of the obstetric team who were supposed to be on duty at the Central Hospital in Ughelli, where Mrs. Joseph was transferred to for maternal care.
According to the plaintiff's lawyer, the deceased had registered at the General Hospital, Otu-Jeremi for antenatal treatment on February 4, 2012. She regularly attended her appointments at the Otu-Jeremi hospital until November 25, 2012, when she began to experience signs of labor.
“Mr. Joseph, upon rushing his wife, Mrs. Elo Joseph, to the General Hospital, Otu-Jeremi, discovered to his dismay that there was only one nurse in the entire facility and not one doctor to attend to his said wife. At about 7:30 a.m., a nurse on duty at the hospital called Mr. Onome Joseph on the phone to inform him that his wife was bleeding, and upon his arrival, he was given a referral letter by a doctor to the obstetric team on call at the Central Hospital, Ughelli for expert management of the case of his wife,” Mr. Ikimi narrated.
“On getting to the Central Hospital, Ughelli an hour later, Mr. Joseph, to his surprise, was told by a houseman on duty at the obstetrics and gynecology ward that members of the obstetric team on call, including two medical consultants and two medical officers, who were supposed to be on duty at the said hospital had all gone away for the weekend.
“Mrs. Elo Joseph, who had labored for close to eight hours and whose bleeding condition had grown worse, was then referred to a private clinic in Ughelli by the said houseman where she had a stillbirth and later died of severe bleeding.”
The human rights lawyer averred that the death of Mrs. Joseph and her baby would have been avoided if members of the obstetric team on call at the Central Hospital, Ughelli, who were nonchalant, lackadaisical and remiss, had adequately and professionally responded promptly to the health condition of the deceased.
After several years of legal battle in court, the presiding Judge of the High Court, Otor-Udu, Justice C. E. Achilefu, in her judgment delivered in open court, struck out the name of Dr. Tuoyo Eda, as the second defendant and went ahead to award the sum of N10 million to Mr. Joseph and a cost of N100,000.00 against the Delta State Hospital Management Board, Dr. Nwabua, Dr. Mike Ozoemena, and State Attorney General in favor of Mr. Joseph.
“It is my view that nothing can quantify the death of a wife of 29 years old to a young man of 47 years, leaving children of 6 and 2 years behind. No compensation, in my view, will be too high for him; the claimant would have preferred bringing his wife back to life than any other compensation. I am therefore in favor of granting a fair compensation to the claimant in the sum of N10 million.
“It is hereby declared that the negligence of the defendants and doctors and nurses under their supervision and employment in the maternity/obstetrics ward at the Central Hospital, Ughelli, which resulted in a stillbirth and the death of the claimant's wife on the 25th of November, 2012, is a wrongful act.
“The sum of N10 million only from the defendants, being damages suffered by the claimant as a result of the negligence of the defendants and doctors and nurses under their supervision and employment in the maternity/obstetrics ward at the Central Hospital, Ughelli, which resulted in a stillbirth and the death of the claimant's wife on the 25th of November, 2012, is a wrongful act,” the judge ruled.
Meanwhile, CENTREP has also concluded arrangements for the erring doctors to face a disciplinary action before the Dental and Clinical Disciplinary Committee in Abuja in a bid to ensure that the licenses of the offending doctors are withdrawn, as they were not licensed to kill but to save human lives.
"We hope that the above public interest suit which is geared towards developing our human rights culture will help to educate medical practitioners in all our public hospitals to respect human lives and to carry out their jobs with all seriousness, as the duty of care owed to their patients is that of the highest professional standard,” Mr. Ikimi stated.