Psychiatric injury caused by death of parent

The reasons for judgment in D Lane & E Lane v Northern NSW Local Health District begin somewhat ominously:

Where do family relationships go so wrong as to be the cause of so much damage and cost to themselves and to the wider community? This is a case study of such a problem and a problem that is becoming increasingly prevalent in our legal system, involving the commencement and continuation of litigation that should really not have been allowed to go on as long as it has.

The claim by the unrepresented plaintiffs was for psychiatric injury as a result of their mother’s death which they allege was caused by her negligent treatment whilst a patient in the Casino District Memorial Hospital and the Lismore Base Hospital. 

The court rejected the plaintiffs submissions that the defendants forced the death of the mother of the plaintiffs or were recklessly indifferent to her death. Much of the material is fact sensitive but statements of general principle appear and include the following at [306]:

…..a hospital is not under an obligation to provide treatment that is felt to be futile. No doubt had it been wished, Mrs Lane could have been transferred to a private institution with the economic capacity to try all the alternatives her family wished to try. But even then, the medical profession has an obligation to not carry out un-necessary and futile treatments without reasonable prospects of a beneficial outcome to the patient, especially in circumstances where the patient herself is unable to give instructions.



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