The estate of a young woman who died from an asthma attack and unsuccessfully sued the State of Queensland at first instance, has now been successful on appeal, with the Supreme Court of Queensland Court of Appeal finding the ambulance officer negligent in failing to administer adrenaline upon arrival at the scene.
Jennifer Masson, who was a chronic asthmatic, collapsed on the front lawn of her friend’s house. Ambulance officers arrived within six minutes of the call. The ambulance officer, Mr Peters applied an intravenous cannula and one minute after arrival he commenced administering intravenous salbutamol. Ms Masson was loaded in to the ambulance at 11:14 pm to be transported to hospital. However during the ambulance ride, cardiac arrest was imminent, so Mr Peters administered 300 micrograms of adrenaline.
Ms Masson suffered severe hypoxic brain damage as a result of oxygen deprivation. It was not in dispute that this was caused as a result of events prior to her arrival at hospital. She was catastrophically brain damaged and remained in around-the-clock care up until her death.
Ms Masson’s estate commenced proceedings in the Supreme Court of Queensland against the State of Queensland, in negligence and claimed damages. It argued that the deprivation of oxygen giving rise to the hypoxic brain injury occurred in the course of her treatment by the ambulance officers because adrenaline was not administered during the initial phase of her treatment at the scene.
The State denied liability. It argued that Ms Masson’s severe hypoxic brain damage had already irreversibly occurred prior to intervention by the ambulance officers. Quantum was agreed at $3m prior to trial.
The trial judge found that administering salbutamol did not fall below the paramedic’s standard of care and was not contrary to the QAS asthma guidelines. Accordingly, the trial judge dismissed the claim.
Ms Masson’s estate appealed the trial judge’s findings.
The court found that there was no basis, consistent with the exercise of reasonable care and skill by Mr Peters as an ambulance officer, for him to use what he ought to have understood was a less effective drug for a patient in this critical condition. The existence of potential side effects, from the perspective of an ambulance officer instructed by the CPM, was not a justification for instead using salbutamol. It follows that the trial judge ought to have held that Mr Peters was negligent in not administrating adrenaline at the outset. [p167] – 
Accordingly, the court upheld Ms Masson’s estate’s appeal: Masson v State of Queensland QCA 80.
This case will shortly be fully reported in the Australian Torts Reporter.
This article first appeared in the CCH Australian Tort, Personal Injury, Health and Medical Law Tracker and is reproduced in full with permission from CCH, a division of Wolters Kluwer Australia: www.wolterskluwer.cch.com.au
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