Cyprus Mail
Cyprus

Failed by the health and judicial systems: one man’s battle to receive awarded damages

Taxi driver Tasos Lambrou

A LIMASSOL taxi driver has narrowly avoided losing his licence at a disciplinary hearing after he allegedly hurled abuse at a surgeon, with whom he has been engaged in a 10-year legal battle over the treatment of his late father.

His actions, he said, are the result of years of frustration at a legal and medical system that has failed his family.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Tasos Lambrou told the Sunday Mail. “I just told the doctor to come to my father’s memorial and that he should pay for his mistakes.”

The doctor had twice operated on Lambrou’s father, Pantelis, over 10 years ago and was successfully sued in 2007, along with the private Limassol clinic where he worked, for negligence. And though Lambrou’s family was awarded close to €200,000 in damages, the doctor is appealing the case at the Supreme Court, a case that has not even begun yet though it was filed in 2011. Lambrou’s father has since died penniless, the family lost their UK business and have spent a fortune on health care in the years leading up to his death.

For Lambrou, the last straw would have been losing his taxi licence.

GOOD WILL

The doctor claims that on two occasions – in October 2014 and April 2015 – Lambrou yelled at him from his cab and in the second instance began to chase him through the streets while the doctor had his children in the car.

The case, which was never reported to police, was dropped after the doctor failed to show up to the licence hearing on Friday.

This, according to the doctor was an act of good will as he did not want Lambrou to lose his licence. But the driver had crossed many lines, he said, abusing him and his family in public and yelling outside their home.

Though Lambrou emphatically rejects the latter claims, he doesn’t deny yelling at the doctor on the street. But what he really wants the world to know is why he did it at all.

Pantelis had gone in for a gall bladder removal in 2005 at the age of 68 but ended up with an infection, suffering a diabetic coma and having to undergo a second operation.

The negligence case was filed at Limassol court in 2007 and opened in 2009. Two years later in 2011 the court found the doctor and clinic guilty and awarded Pantelis close to €200,000 in damages.

The clinic appealed the case in the same year (the appeal is why neither the doctor nor the clinic can be named). Five years later, the case has still not even begun at the Supreme Court.

Pantelis never lived to see his money. Instead he died in 2013 having lived his final years in extremely poor health, cared for at home.

NOT SORRY

Lambrou is not sorry for shouting at the surgeon.

“This was my dad. You take someone to the clinic you expect them to walk out again.”

It all started in November 2005, when 68-year-old Pantelis underwent a gall bladder removal operation at the private clinic.

After the surgery however, Pantelis felt unwell complaining of difficulties breathing, bloating, redness of his legs and stomach pains.

The surgeon put it down to an infection and a side effect of the drugs, prescribing him more medicine.

When the problems did not go away Pantelis and his wife visited the surgeon for a second time, the doctor then asked Pantelis if he had AIDS. Despite his wife’s rage and disbelief, Pantelis actually took the test to see if he was HIV positive.

What Pantelis actually had was an abscess and three weeks after the initial surgery another doctor checked him back into the clinic.

There, Pantelis underwent another grueling three and a half hour operation carried out by his initial surgeon to remove it.

By the next day, the elderly man’s blood pressure had plummeted and he was having seizures so strong he would thrash a foot and a half in the air and had to be restrained, the court heard.

Five days after the surgery, a diabetes specialist was called who ordered blood sugar tests and found the patient had fallen into a diabetic coma with his sugar levels hitting 1,900.

During the 2009 court case, the diabetologist testified that he managed to bring down Pantelis’ blood sugar levels to 281. However under the circumstances, bearing in mind Pantelis’ age, his infection and the stress from his surgeries his blood sugar should have been monitored every day post-surgery.

DEFENCE

In his defence, the surgeon told the court he had tested the patient’s sugar levels using glucose strips which revealed all was normal.

But this, according to the diabetologist was not sufficient enough as it has a margin of error of 20 per cent. A more thorough approach would have been to carry out a blood test. Additionally, the doctor said it was not common practice to burden a patient with more tests if they did not have diabetes.

The court also heard Pantelis’ downward spiral was a rare development which happened in one in 1,000 cases and usually resulted in high blood sugar without the patient falling into a diabetic coma.

Pantelis was taking cocktails of drugs for about three weeks at the clinic and underwent yet another procedure to remove liquid from his lungs stemming from all the drugs he was taking.

One day in mid-January 2006, the family was shocked to discover on a visit to the clinic that Pantelis was no longer there.

“They packaged him off and sent him to the general hospital. We were clueless,” said Lambrou.

The family had discussed moving Pantelis to the hospital due to the accumulating costs but never gave any orders to do so, the court heard.

To add to their dismay, after finding Pantelis in the emergency department, hospital doctors told the family that during Pantelis’ stay at the clinic he had not been fed properly and that this would affect his recovery.

Not only did Pantelis never get to see his money but the family finances were exhausted in trying to keep him comfortable.

The family business in England was lost, Lambrou said, as no one could tend to it and a spell in another private clinic in 2011 after Pantelis had left the hospital had to be cut short because the family had no more money.

He died two years later in his house with wounds all over his body and an exhausted family that had tended to him 24/7.

DIGNITY

“If we had the money he could have died decently and with respect. My dad went to England when he was 16. He and my mum worked so hard all their lives. So hard,” said Lambrou. “All they wanted was to come back to Cyprus and retire. And we lost everything over such a simple procedure.”

More than ten years after the family’s nightmare started, Lambrou is sick of hearing the words “be patient”. Despite numerous letters from Pantelis’ lawyer urging the registrar to speed up the case, the doctor’s appeal has still not begun at the Supreme Court.

And this is why, Lambrou says, he cannot believe he did anything wrong when he shouted at the surgeon.

“When you see your dad like that, of course you’re going to get mad. I didn’t do anything wrong,” Lambrou said.

“I’m a taxi driver. I’m out in the streets. Of course I’m going to drive past his house – as part of my job,” he said.

“I love my wife and kids, but sometimes I can be a bit snappy because I’ve got this hanging over my head. It’s been 10 years. I want to close this chapter and move on.”

Cyprus Bar Association board member Epaminondas Korakides said delays in the court system was due to having a small number of judges compared to other countries. Although the number of judges is in accordance with the law, the state could table a bill to parliament increasing the number, he said.

When it comes to appeals, like in Lambrou’s case, the Supreme Court is loaded with administrative court cases. The load however is easing as in the beginning of the year, a decision was taken to have administrative court handle those cases, Korakides said.

Additionally, new amendments by Supreme Court mean if a lawyer takes too long to proceed with a plaintiff’s case the case could actually be rejected.


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