DETERMINING THE STANDARD OF A REASONABLE PHYSICIAN
An anesthetic was administered to a patient by introducing oxygen from a tank into a can containing ether. The mixture of ether and oxygen was forced through a tube and into the patient’s throat and the patient almost immediately developed a cyanotic condition, necessitating the administration of pure oxygen. After the tubes were withdrawn and oxygen was drawn from the tank into a bag, the tank was inserted again into the ether can but with reduced pressure.
After the patient’s condition normalized, the Magill tub was disconnected from the oxygen bag in an attempt to restore the flow to the patient. A violent explosion occurred causing serious injuries to the patient. The evidence established the explosion resulted from a spark of static electricity which set flame to the ether-oxygen mixture that escaped the can while the Magill tube was disconnected and had accumulated near the patient’s head.
The issue with this case was whether the defendant, the anesthesiologist, was liable after the explosion had caused severe injuries to the plaintiff. The trial judge dismissed the action against the defendant.
The Court of Appeal ultimately reversed the trial judge’s decision to dismiss the action, and the anesthesiologist was found liable in damages for the patient’s injuries. This anesthesiologist was negligent as the judge found that it was not sufficient to reduce the pressure but that the oxygen should have been turned off entirely, entailing no material delay and reducing the danger substantially.
The Court conceded that the ether-oxygen vapour was highly explosive and in surgical operations, there was a constant danger of a spark from static electricity.
In determining the standard of care that a reasonable physician would have in these circumstances, the Ontario Court of appeal set the standard that,
“Every medical practitioner must bring to his task a reasonable degree of skill and knowledge and must exercise a reasonable degree of care. He is bound to exercise that degree of care and skill which could reasonably be expected of a normal, prudent practitioner of the same experience and standing, and if he holds himself out as a specialist, a higher degree of skill is required of him than one who does not profess to be so qualified by special training and ability.”
Read the full case here.
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