Family denied compo after drug leaves woman brain dead
The nation's highest court has found the State Government was not negligent over a Queensland Ambulance officer's treatment of an asthmatic woman, who was left severely disabled for almost 14 years before her death.
Jennifer Leanne Masson, 25, was left brain dead after her family allege she was given the wrong drug by paramedics for a chronic asthma attack, which she had in Cairns in 2002.
Ms Masson suffered an asthma attack shortly after she arrived at a friend's house 18 years ago.
She was wheezing badly and returned to her car to look for her Ventolin puffer before asking friends to take her to hospital.
On the way to the hospital, she collapsed on the front lawn and her friends began resuscitation.
She was blue in the face and struggling for breath when a paramedic initially injected her with salbutamol, but on the way to hospital her condition deteriorated, causing her to suffer brain damage due to oxygen deprivation.
The officer switched to treating her with adrenaline after he administered twice the maximum dosage of salbutamol recommended by QAS, court documents said.
The woman was left severely disabled and required care for more than 13 years, until her death in 2016.
Her family brought negligence action against the State Government and argued the adrenaline should have been administered sooner and the paramedics were not properly trained.
"The failure was said to be contrary to the instructions in the QAS Clinical Practice Manual," they had argued.
Her estate won $3 million in compensation after the Queensland Court of Appeal ruled in their favour, following a failed bid to hold the Queensland Government, as the provider for ambulance services, accountable.
But following the appeal finding last year, the State Government took the case to the High Court of Australia.
In a judgement handed down today, the High Court, unanimously ruled in favour of the Queensland Government, finding the care did "not fall below the standard of care expected of an ordinary skilled intensive care paramedic".
The State Government told the court that there was evidence to support the treatment administered and that the use of adrenaline was not directed at the time Ms Masson was unwell.
The original trial judge found in 2002, there was "a responsible body of opinion within the medical profession which supported the view that Ms Masson's high heart rate and high blood pressure, in the context of her overall condition, provided a medically sound basis to prefer the administration of salbutamol to adrenaline".
But by majority, the Queensland Court of Appeal said the officer "was negligent in not administering adrenaline to Ms Masson at the outset".
Justices Susan Kiefel, Virginia Bell and Patrick Keane found "the administration of… salbutamol to Ms Masson in all the circumstances was within the range of reasonable clinical judgments that an ordinary skilled intensive care paramedic might make".
Justices Geoffrey Nettle and Michelle Gordon agreed the State Government was not negligent and said "a body of professional opinion does not need to align to majority opinion in order to be regarded a responsible body of professional opinion".
"In the urgent reality with which (the paramedic) was presented, he was faced with the dilemma of choosing between the administration of adrenaline, which he correctly understood would carry a real risk of worsening the patient's condition, and salbutamol, which did not carry that risk," the judgement said.
"Consistently with a responsible body of medical opinion, he chose the latter, and such evidence as there was of practice among paramedics was that it was not an inappropriate decision. The reality was… this was a decision which could reasonably, in light of the competing risks, have gone either way.
"No breach of duty of care was established."
Ms Masson's family were ordered to pay the costs of the appeal.
Originally published as Family denied compensation after drug leaves woman brain dead