IT MAY ring like a cliché, but the success of litigants more often than not depends on how deep one’s pockets run. In a labyrinthine legal system, winning frequently means having the staying – read spending – power to bleed out, as it were, the other side.
For plaintiffs, this is further compounded where medical negligence is concerned. Indeed, it’s fair to say that here the cards are stacked against the plaintiff, as the personal account of Gavin Jones (scroll down for ‘The Man versus the State’) amply demonstrates. It took Jones about six years to get some measure of satisfaction – if one could even call it that – after his mother – well known Cypriot artist Thraki Rossidou Jones – died while in care in a state hospital.
An inquest found that she had suffered an unnatural death, implying medical negligence. That was the first hurdle; the next was the actual lawsuit. The red tape, delaying tactics and legal chicanery placed in Gavin Jones’ path is like something out a bad dream. Seeking justice rather than compensation, he eventually decided to settle, realising that the presiding judge in the courtroom was, to put it mildly, not very friendly to his cause.
In general, proving medical negligence is extremely difficult. Due to the nature of the beast, a plaintiff needs to put an expert witness on the stand. That means getting a doctor to testify against another doctor. And it’s no secret that’s a tall order, especially in a small society such as Cyprus.
“Doctors are very reluctant to testify against a colleague,” says Nikos Rotsides, managing director at Rotsides & Co. law firm.
So prevalent is this ‘code’ among physicians here that at times plaintiffs have to resort to bringing in experts from abroad.
That aside, the logistics are daunting. Doctors, being well-paid professionals, require a high retainer for sacrificing their time in a courtroom. Usually the average Joe can hardly afford this.
“By contrast, the defendant – a doctor – can afford to retain two or three expert witnesses, not to mention hiring the top-dollar lawyers out there,” says Rotsides.
He, as well as other lawyers, tell the Mail that most medical negligence cases are settled, as plaintiffs come to realise the strain – mental and otherwise – of going the whole nine yards.
Statistics for medical negligence complaints are hard to come by. The Cyprus Medical Association does not keep such records. Rulings must be sought at the courts themselves, and can be obtained only on permission from court authorities. Even then, the dossiers there are not computerised, nor are they categorised by subject on hard copy, and you’d presumably have to sift through a stack of files to find what you want.
Moreover, records are kept only of decisions, so it’s not easy to discover how many applications were actually filed.
But through the kind assistance of legal portal Leginet, the Mail was able to obtain some rough data. The numbers are telling: from 1997 to 2012 there were 16 rulings on medical negligence at the Supreme Court, of which one was a criminal case. In district courts, there were around 30 judgments from 2008 to 2013, but it was not possible to determine which of these were appealed.