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Attorney General; Minister for Health; Electoral Affairs
New laws to protect obstetricians
24/11/2005 12:00 AM
New laws to protect obstetricians from being sued by their patients decades after treating them come into effect this week.
Attorney General Jim McGinty said the new laws replaced archaic statute of limitations provisions in Western Australia which enabled people to sue obstetricians for negligence up to 24 years after the birth.
“It was absurd that doctors had the threat of legal action hanging over their heads for more than two decades,” Mr McGinty said.
“Those legal concerns had pushed insurance premiums up and forced many obstetricians to leave private practice, making it difficult to maintain high quality care for mothers and their babies.”
The new laws wind back the statute of limitations for legal action against obstetricians to six years from the date of birth.
However, Mr McGinty said there would be provisions for a court to extend the six-year limitation if it considered a parent or guardian’s failure to commence proceedings was reasonable.
“Allowing the courts to step in and extend the time if necessary provides a safety net for children so they are not disadvantaged in any way,” he said.
The Attorney General said the new Limitation Act (2005) also addressed several other key legal issues including:
providing people who suffered latent injury or disease, such as exposure to chemicals, or victims of child sex abuse, with the ability to take legal action for the first time; and
removing discriminatory provisions which made it more difficult for people to sue Government departments and agencies so in the future, the Government would be treated the same as non-Government entities.
Previously, people were unable to take civil action more than six years after the date they were actually injured.
“For many victims, the statute of limitations ran out even before they knew they had a physical injury or illness or that a particular person was responsible,” Mr McGinty said.
“Now people will have up to three years to make a damages claim from the time the first significant symptoms of their illness or injury appear.
“This effectively means that the clock does not start ticking until people are fully aware of the extent of their condition.”
The courts will also be able to extend the limitation period from when the victim knew - or ought to have known - both the physical cause of the injury and that the injury was attributable to the conduct of some identified person.
For people with a mental disability, the new laws provide a statute of limitations of 12 years from the date of the injury if they not under the care of a guardian or administrator and three years if they are under care.
“These changes modernise Western Australia’s civil law and bring the State into line with other jurisdictions around the country,” Mr McGinty said.
Attorney General's office: 9220 5000