Man awarded $2 million after botched surgery at Queensland hospital leaves him with brain damage

A Queensland man has been awarded more than $2 million in compensation after a hospital’s botched treatment left him with severe brain damage and shortened life expectancy.

The man, who worked as an artist at major advertising firms in New York for much of his life before moving to Australia in 2005, was admitted to Redcliffe Hospital in March 2016 complaining of nausea and generalised abdominal pain.

He underwent two laparotomy procedures — an incision into the abdominal cavity to examine the organs and assist in diagnosing the source of pain — during which he suffered two bowel perforations.

That led to multiple further surgeries, resulting in vision loss, a blood clot, internal bleeding and cardiac arrest.

His litigation guardian sued Metro North Hospital and Health Service (MNHHS), which admitted it breached its duty of care to the man and that he suffered injuries as a consequence.

The improper treatment during the nearly month-long stay at Redcliffe Hospital “led to [the patient] suffering bowel perforations, sepsis and ultimately cardiac arrest and stroke”, Queensland Supreme Court Justice Sean Cooper said on Wednesday.

“Those events caused [the patient] to suffer significant injuries, including brain damage,” Justice Cooper said.

“The defendant … admits that it breached its duty of care to [the man], and that [he] suffered injuries as a consequence of that breach.”

The stroke left the man, now in his 70s, with receptive and expressive aphasia, or difficulty comprehending and producing speech.

He can “only produce simple guttural sounds as well as ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and simple words as answers to direct questions but has some understanding of familiar and simple phrases”, the court heard from one expert.

He now needs a colostomy bag and has “extremely limited” mobility. He has been living in an aged care facility since March 2017.

The man’s litigation guardian had sought damages of more than $6.5 million, while MNHHS argued it was only liable to pay $827,500.

He had expressed a desire to move back into his own home, supported by carers, while MNHHS had argued his claim should be assessed on the basis that he will continue to reside at the aged care facility.

Justice Cooper awarded the man total compensation of $2.19 million, including $284,700 in general damages, $1.08 million for future care, $583,000 for costs incurred under Medicare and $14,500 for aids and equipment.

The court heard from multiple experts to determine how the man’s life expectancy had been affected by the injury.

Justice Cooper accepted the MNHHS position that the reduction “should be of the order of nine months giving an estimate in the range of five years from age 71”, given the man’s multiple pre-existing conditions including heavy smoking, type 2 diabetes, transient ischaemic attack, elevated cholesterol and hypertension.

Experts also gave evidence to determine whether living in his own home, with appropriate support, would extend the man’s life expectancy due to the psychological and other health benefits.

But Justice Cooper rejected those arguments.

“It seems to me that, although living in his own home with [his son] and a dog would enhance [the man’s] quality of life in an overall sense when compared with his continued residence at [the aged care facility], I am not satisfied that it would be likely to result in health benefits for [the man] that are significantly better than those likely to be achieved at [the facility] with additional therapy and a dedicated external care assistant,” he said.

“In those circumstances, I do not consider it reasonable to require that the MNHHS pay the significant additional cost that would be involved in [the man] moving from [the aged care facility] into his own home. I will assess [the man’s] damages on the basis that he will continue to reside at [the facility], but that he is entitled to the reasonable cost of … enhanced care arrangements.”

MNHHS has been contacted for comment.

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