LAST week there were reports of a mother and child who died in labour. Their relatives believe that if the medical personnel had taken better care and diligence the duo would have not died.
Anyone who has nursed a sick person knows how painful it can be to lose a patient. This pain however, is multiplied if you feel that the doctors did not do enough, or were outright negligent.
Medical personnel have a particularly difficult task, given that their actions, or omissions, can result in the death of a human being. Yet professional negligence or recklessness is not limited to only medical practitioners. Lawyers, journalists, engineers, accountants and teachers are all capable of being negligent in their work.
The law is well aware of this fact, hence the provision for suing any professional who is suspected by his client of being negligent or outright reckless. We have lately been treated to the case of ENRON, an American accounting firm, that was accused of not having exercised enough professional diligence in detecting the companyâ€™s poor financial state of affairs. The firmâ€™s star has greatly diminished as a result.
In Uganda, most professional bodies have a disciplinary arm in their organisation. These disciplinary bodies are supposed to help clients to have the opportunity to settle their grievances, in a manner that is straight forward enough to afford clients a free, fair and speedy trial.
These committees also aim at giving the professionals an opportunity to defend themselves before their peers. This opportunity should cost them less in terms of money and time. Of course, if the matter is so grave or if the client feels he will not get justice or is aggrieved by the decision of the disciplinary committee, he or she can always resort to the courts of law, where a number of remedies, including compensation, punitive damages etc can be sought.
Suing oneâ€™s doctor is not an easy decision to make. In the case of a gynaecologist, a relationship of about nine months will have been formed. It is possible that this particular doctor would have been been chosen over several others.
When a mishap, like death or disability results from his actions or omissions, therefore, many options will have to be weighed before the decision to sue is taken. This is especially so in a non-litigious society such as ours. In places like the USA, professionals are always on their toes knowing that any slight mistake could result in a law suit in court.
It is no wonder that in such countries the services provided by professionals are of high calibre. It is debatable however, whether the ever-present threat of law suits leads to quality services or if the high calibre of legal services condition clients not to expect mediocrity, which they may punish by suing when it occurs.
Should our society also punish every negligent professional through lawsuits?
There is a place for putting professionals on notice so that they carry out their duties more diligently. Not to the extreme of the developed countries, where doctors sometimes fear to take on certain cases for fear of failing and being sued. However, neither can we afford to let professionals get away with murder.
My guess is that as legal services get more accessible, competition will become more cut-throat and the number of legal practitioners will sky rocket, then the days when professionals took their clients for granted will come to an end. This would be a good if it made professionals ensure high quality services.
The flip side is that the cost of these services would increase drastically, as professionals try to build insurance against law suits. But one would rather pay more and live an extra day, than to pay less and lose a life. It is time for Ugandan professionals to beware!
Are Our Professionals Negligent?