Graham Cleary v Health Care Corporation Pty Ltd t/as Wollongong Private Hospital [2023] NSWDC 263

In the matter of Graham Cleary v Health Care Corporation Pty Ltd t/as Wollongong Private Hospital [2023] NSWDC 263, the plaintiff, Mr Graham Cleary, commenced court proceedings against the defendant hospital, Wollongong Private Hospital, seeking damages for injuries and losses as a result of the negligence of the Wollongong Hospital.

On 17 July 2020, the plaintiff was admitted to the Wollongong Hospital for an operation on his back to remove a piece of bone, an osteophyte, that would also relieve leg pain the plaintiff was experiencing. Following the operation and whilst in recovery, the plaintiff submitted that he had no symptoms in his left nor his right leg. On 18 July 2020, the plaintiff was taken from the Intensive Care Unit to radiology to have a CT scan. He was wheeled in his bed by two staff members, one pushing the bed from the head and the other guiding the bed at the foot. On the return trip to from the CT scan to the Intensive Care Unit, the plaintiff alleged that as the bed approached the doors to the Intensive Care Unit and while the bed was moving at a walking pace (or maybe slightly slower), the staff member at the foot of the bed let go of the bed in order to open the doors and, whilst the end of the bed was not being guided by the staff member at the foot, the bed continued to move and struck the wall to the side of the doors. The plaintiff submits that the impact caused a shock through his body, and he slid down the bed with his feet coming in contact with the footboard. The plaintiff submits that he felt immediate pain and numbness, which then worsened over the next couple of hours.

On 21 July 2023, the District Court made the following observations in relation to negligence:

I find that the plaintiff being moved from the ICU to another area of the hospital, mere hours after significant back surgery and who was in receipt of significant analgesia was vulnerable. It is not far-fetched or fanciful to conclude that a person in his position would be at risk of harm if the bed collided with the wall. [at 81]

There is no doubt that the particular injury suffered by the plaintiff when the bed hit the wall was unusual however it is quite foreseeable that a patient having very recently had back surgery would be significantly injured through the bed colliding with the wall. [at 82]

Given the probability of harm to a physically vulnerable patient being taken from the ICU to another place in the hospital and the likely seriousness of that harm if it eventuated, the burden of taking precautions against the staff not being properly in control of the bed’s movement were minor. [at 85]

I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the defendant was negligent. [at 86]

In relation to causation, the District Court made the following observations:

I am satisfied that it is more probable than not that the defendant’s negligence caused or materially contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries. It follows…that the most probable cause of the permanent damage to the plaintiff’s L5 nerve was from the bone graft fragment being displaced from the L4 disc space when the bed collided with the wall and coming to rest under the L5 nerve which was damaged as the nerve was pulled across its sharp surface. [at 89]

Ultimately, the District Court awarded damages to the plaintiff in the sum of $583,711.00 and ordered that the defendant pay the plaintiff’s costs of and incidental to the proceedings.

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