On 12 June 2010 the plaintiff, then 9 weeks pregnant with a confirmed intrauterine pregnancy, was admitted to Geraldton Regional Hospital Emergency Department after experiencing severe chest and abdominal pain. She was observed for six hours and treated for indigestion. A pelvic ultrasound later revealed an ectopic pregnancy that had ruptured her left fallopian tube and caused significant internal bleeding. Surgery was undertaken to remove the damaged part of the tube and the Plaintiff went on to deliver a healthy baby.

In 2016 the plaintiff made application for an extension of time to bring an action for the pain and suffering she experienced during the six hour delay in diagnosis and treatment of her ectopic pregnancy.

Time may be extended under the Limitation Act 2005 (WA) if the delay is attribute to fraudulent or other improper conduct of the defendant (s 38), or the plaintiff was not aware of the physical cause of her injury, that the injury was attributable to someone’s conduct, or the identity of any such person (s 39).

In the present case, the plaintiff’s mother had met with hospital staff shortly after the incident. A customer liaison officer (CLO) later provided the plaintiff’s mother with a complaint form and the contact details of the Aboriginal Consumer Participation Program (ACPP) if she required assistance.

In September 2010, an ACPP representative arranged a meeting where the CLO was to compile a complaint note for the plaintiff to approve, and it would then be logged and investigated. The CLO followed up with the plaintiff’s mother but did not receive any further contact.  In 2012, the Regional Medical Director was contacted by an ‘advocate for the Plaintiff’ resulting in three meetings and a HaDSCO complaint. In August 2013, the plaintiff approached the Hospital seeking compensation of $30,000 for her pain and suffering from the delayed diagnosis of her ectopic pregnancy and also the lack of timeliness in responding to her complaint. It was suggested that she should put her request in writing so that it may be passed on to the Hospital’s insurer. It was also suggested that the smaller the amount claimed the more likely that the insurer might consider paying it. The plaintiff then wrote to the Hospital seeking $9,750 damages. The letter was passed on to the Hospital’s insurer who subsequently wrote rejecting the plaintiff’s claim on the grounds that the limitation period for a claim had expired and also that the amount claimed was less than the required threshold as set by the Civil Liability Act. The plaintiff spoke to a lawyer in June 2016 and was advised to commence proceedings immediately.

The Court dismissed the plaintiff’s application as there were no grounds to extend time. The plaintiff’s primary argument was based on improper conduct by the Hospital in dealing with her complaint. However, the Court found that although the complaints procedure may not have been well handled, there was no improper conduct by the defendant which misled the plaintiff about the applicable time limit. It was not for them to provide the plaintiff with legal advice. Further, it could not be said that the plaintiff was unaware of the injury being attributable to the hospital staff. 

To read the decision in Charlton -v- The WA Country Health Service [2017] WASC 223, click here.