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Medical Negligence Dealt Seriously In UAE : Know More Of The Laws To Seek Redressal

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Staff Writer, TLR

Published on July 14, 2023, 17:41:00

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UAE Laws, Medical Negligence, Penalty, Lawyers in Dubai, Compensation, Doctor's Negligence, Federal Law,

By Soumya Mishra

In medicine and healthcare where there is a leeway for discretion, a patient approaching a doctor expects the medical professional to bring to the table, highest degree of knowledge and skill.  An omission or act or substandard treatment with respect to diagnosis, medicine dosage, health management, treatment or after care may be cause detrimental affect on the patient’s health.  The trauma of undergoing unavoidable suffering due to medical negligence is incomparable but unfortunately happens often. While human error does occur, common laws and laws across various jurisdictions have over the years evolved with stringent principles against medical negligence.  negligence epecially so if it causes an unavoidable or life-altering ailment or death.

In a recent case of medical negligence, a 38-year-old woman’s finger was paralysed after two different surgeons performed surgeries on it within a span of two months. The patient fractured the ring finger on her right hand when a car door slammed on it. She approached a private hospital that provided her conservative care . However, after receiving medication and what she believed to be “Professional Care”  for over two weeks she did not see an improvement in her condition. A month later, her finger became stiff, and she sought treatment from an orthopaedic surgeon at a second hospital. When things did not get better even after two months, she saw another surgeon at a third hospital for advice and he carried out another surgical procedure. These repeated surgeries made her condition worse, and her finger became stiffer. 

The woman, a bank employee, could no longer carry out her job as her paralyzed finger hindered the use of computer.  Inconvenienced and dejected, she filed a complaint with the Dubai Health Authority against all three hospitals and the surgeons involved wherein she sought relief against the damages she suffered. According to a special investigation commission, the first hospital and doctor were not held responsible as they solely provided care and did not carry out any medical procedure. but the second and third hospitals and surgeons were held guilty of causing sclerodactyly. The commission reported that it was medical misconduct to carry out a surgery one or two months after the accident. The patient’s lawyer requested for compensation of Dh400,000 for his client. The court after looking into the merits of the case, found the hospitals liable and ordered them to compensate the affected woman with Dh100,000.

In an unlikely scenario, If this happens to you or your loved ones, how can you seek redressal and compensation for medical negligence?

What is Medical Negligence?

When a healthcare professional provides poor and reckless treatment to a patient that is less than what another prudent, qualified and educated professional would provide in a similar case, it counts as medical negligence. Negligence becomes malpractice in cases where a healthcare professional fails to diagnose adverse conditions, fails to inform patients of serious risks of certain treatments and causes unacceptable errors in the conduct of operations and other procedures, etc. It is also constituted when the treatment causes the injury of the patient to worsen. The addition of two essential elements - legal causation and damages are necessary before negligence gives rise to a malpractice suit. If the doctor’s actions do not have a detrimental affect on the patient’s condition, a medical malpractice claim may fall short.

In ordinary legal systems, liability for errors in treatment is based on the law of negligence. An act of commission or omission that may support an allegation of medical malpractice is a failure to diagnose an illness or disease, a failure to provide adequate treatment for an illness, or an undue delay in treating a diagnosed disease.

The law of medical practice differs from country to country, but the general rule of liability is as follows: a physician who does not demonstrate a fair, reasonable, and competent level of skill in the medical care of a patient. In order to win, the victim or the plaintiff must have sustained damage caused by the failure of the doctor to exercise due care. Doctors and healthcare professionals are subject to the rule of negligence. Further, when a patient approaches a Doctor, the relationship takes shape of a contract retaining the essential elements of tort law.  Laws vary according to jurisdiction, and the specific professionals targeted in a lawsuit for malpractice may vary depending on where the lawsuit is filed. 

Law on Medical Negligence in the UAE

Federal Law Number 10 of 2008 covered medical negligence and was later repealed in 2016 by the New Medical Negligence Law. The Medical Liability Act, adopted on 16 December 2008, recognises doctor-patient relationship and requires institutions providing health services to conclude insurance contracts for errors in treatment. Claims made in the UAE constitute tort and require compensation in the form of damages. According to the new medical law of the UAE, Federal Law No. 4 of 2016, there are provisions for cases except medical liability. Article 6 of the Act lays out detailed reasons for not causing harm to patient and uses the term “medical malpractice” to address such cases as well as including the redressal mechanisms.

Defining the Grounds: What Constitutes these Offences

In order to prove criminal medical negligence, the law of 2016 states that gross medical errors that occur can be punished by imprisonment and fines, but the conditions are never clearly defined, making them difficult to implement in practice. In 2019, the UAE passed Cabinet Resolution No. 40 defining the above mentioned term. Medical Error has been defined in this Law under Article 6 as error committed by the medical practitioner owing to:

“1- Ignorance in the technical matters that are supposed to be known by any practitioner of the same degree and specialization. 2- Non-compliance with the recognized professional and medical principles. 3- Not exercising due diligence. 4- Negligence and not paying attention.”

Article 5 of the above mentioned Resolution defines “Gross Medical Error”, building up on the term “Medical Error”, thereby making a Medical Error which causes a death to a patient (including a fetus), loss of a limb, impairment to a bodily function, or any other, owing to the below-mentioned, are included within the ambit of Medical Negligence:

  1. extreme ignorance of the recognised medical code of practice, as per the degree and specialisation of the profession practitioner;
  2. following a method not medically recognised;
  3. unjustified deviation from the medical rules and code of practice in practising the profession;
  4. the physician is under the influence of alcohol or illegal substances;
  5. gross negligence or lack of clear attention in following the standard procedures, such as leaving medical tools inside a patient’s body, giving a patient the incorrect dosage of medicines, failure to switch on medical equipment during or after the surgical operations, resuscitation, delivery or not giving a patient the medically appropriate medicine or any other acts that may considered as gross negligence;
  6. intentionally practise the profession out the scope of the specialisation or clerical privilege enjoyed by the physician under his/her licence; or
  7. the physician, without medical supervision, issues a diagnosis or administers treatment in which he/she is not qualified or trained to do.

Article 18 of the new law establishes the Medical Liability Committee, a committee to review cases of medical negligence, consisting of medical experts and exclusively deals with complaints. In accordance with the law, when a party files a case of medical negligence or maltreatment, the health authorities of the relevant Emirates shall refer the case to the committee. The channel through which a patient can submit a medical error is provided for in Article 18 of this Act and cannot be changed by an executive decision. The committee makes a report and sends the same to Medical Liability Supreme Council. The compulsory nature of such health insurance provided for in Article 25 implies that doctors will not be able practice unless health care providers insure them to protect them from accusations of malpractice. The investigating procedure works as per Chapter 3 of the Law.

The medical liability law in the United Arab Emirates stipulates that medical professional are liable if they make a medical error aimed at maximising profit or other benefits. Article 34 of the law punishes doctors who commit medical errors that result in the loss of life of a patient with imprisonment for up to two years and / or a fine of up to 500,000 AED500,000 (136,105 US dollars). It also states that a doctor who commits medical errors or negligence resulting in the loss of a patient's life may be sentenced to two years of imprisonment or a fine (which may be extended) or no more than two years imprisonment, fine or no more if the gross medical error was committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

How to seek redressal?

To file a complaint, the victim can use the relatively easy and comprehensive system, made available online by Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP) for most Emirates and specific channels for Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

However, within Dubai itself, there are two methods for filing a complaint. The first is an online form mode via mc.dha.gov.ae – the official DHA website, and the second is by emailing the complaint to the email address: cg@dha.gov.ae. The Abu Dhabi Department of Health (DOH) deals with medical complaints either via call or through online portal where you could submit your complaints. You might require information on the medical condition, proof of your claim and an Emirates ID to file such a complaint.

Expert Opinion

According to advocate Jinny Cherian, Senior Associate, Nasser Yousuf Al Khamis Lawyers and Legal Consultants (NYK Law Firm), “Medicine which is a noble profession requires setting a realm which can benefit the patients especially considering the know how involved in the profession which is not available, accessible or understandable to the masses.”

Civil considerations of negligence ensure that doctors act appropriately as per the standards set by their peers. On the other hand, criminal negligence looks to ascertain whether the act or omission has resulted in serious harm. Due to the great availability of practice guidelines, precedent and literature in medicine, Doctors and health care practitioners should always consider the implications and justification for deviation from standard practices. Health care professionals should ensure that they seek assistance and advise in order to ensure public safety.

Picture Courtesy: iPleaders

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