Fuller v Australian Capital Territory  ACTSC 361
The injured plaintiff, Ms Bronwyn Fuller was unsuccessful in her claim against the Australian Capital Territory. Ms Bronwyn alleged that she suffered psychiatric injuries due to the negligence of Canberra hospital for failing to take precautions to prevent the needle breaking when she was administered a spinal anaesthetic for her caesarean section in February 2020.
The first anaesthetist who attempted to administer the anaesthetic gave evidence in court that when he put the needle in to administer the spinal anaesthetic he hit bone so he redirected (by taking the needle out and reinserting it) but could not recall exactly how many times he did this. Subsequently the second anaesthetist attempted to administer the spinal anaesthetic but only half of the needle came out when she pulled it out. The remaining half of the needle remained in Ms Fuller’s back. Subsequently a senior neurosurgeon was called and they extracted the needle.
Ms Fuller alleged that due to the hospital’s negligence, she required an additional procedure to extract the needle and suffered psychiatric injuries. Ms Fuller alleged that the hospital should have take reasonable precautions by replacing the spinal needle used before reattempting to insert the needle to decrease the risk of the needle breaking.
The court considered whether the second anaesthetist should have taken reasonable precautions to avoid the needle breaking by using a new needle before attempting to administer the anaesthetic and whether she used excessive force when inserting the needle. The court accepted the evidence of the second anaesthetist that she used a gentle approach, although hitting bone.
Expert Evidence and Court Decision
Dr MacPherson and Dr Liyanagama gave expert evidence that they both knew of other situations where spinal needles and been broken. They both agreed that in this case the needle was at least bent in the process of its insertion and that the first anaesthetist could run into bone and weaken the needle and the second anaesthetist could use the same spinal needle in accordance with professional standards but yet the needle would break.
The court found that the most likely explanation for how the needle broke was that it hit hard ligamentous material when the spinal needle was inserted, or that the bent needle broke when it was pulled back through the introducer.
The Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) found that the risk of a spinal needle breaking was a rare but reasonably foreseeable risk. The court found that the hospital had not breached its duty of care. The court took into account that the risk of the needle breaking being very rare and decided that the second anaesthetist acted in a reasonable manner.
You can read the full judgement here: judgement
- Known Complications: Suffering an injury, or rare complication of a procedure does not mean that there was negligence. The fact that an injury is a known complication of a procedure does not mean it was not caused by negligence.
- Consent and Negligence: Even if you sign a consent form and agree to a procedure it does not mean you agreed to negligent treatment. You can still pursue a case if you have suffered an injury due to negligent performance of a procedure.
- Legal and Medical Issues: It is important to identify the specific legal and medical issues in medical negligence cases and to obtain literature and medical expert evidence to support and prove your claim.
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Written by Puja Payal
Puja Payal is a lawyer in our Medical Negligence Practice Group. Puja assists Alicia Wong who is an Accredited Specialist is Personal Injury Law and practices exclusively in medical negligence claims.