Alternative dispute resolution in medical malpractice in south Africa
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South Africa has seen a spike in medical malpractice litigation, including the number and size of claims instituted against healthcare practitioners. This has led to a backlog in medical malpractice court cases throughout South Africa and a strain on both the public and private healthcare sectors, affecting an already burdened healthcare system. The surge in medical malpractice litigation is not a new phenomenon in developed countries. Most have curbed this through alternative dispute resolution (ADR). This has been facilitated by effectively introducing efficient legal frameworks that promote ADR. Unfortunately, this is not the case in a developing country such as South Africa. To date, much research and literature has attributed blame for the large-scale increase in medical malpractice litigation to legal practitioners. This has been aided by comments made by the former Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi (Dr Motsoaledi). In as much as this may be the common perception, there appears, to the contrary, to be systematic problems in the South African healthcare system. The legal profession is only a minor contributing factor to the increase in medical malpractice litigation. The strained financial resources and shortage of healthcare staff in public hospitals contributes to the increased risk of medical malpractice cases. Furthermore, when considering the South African legal system, contingency fee arrangements have, in certain circumstances, increased vexatious litigation and, as such, it is on this basis that medical malpractice litigation has been on the increase in South African courts. This study seeks to analyse the current state of the South African healthcare system, and in light of the increasing number of medical practice claims and litigation, propose ADR mechanisms that offer efficient, cost effective, and expeditious channels to resolving these issues and to ensure that parties recognise the full benefits of ADR. This study proposes legal reform in medical malpractice litigation in South Africa. This thesis compares the experiences, legislative and policy frameworks in Australia and the United States of America (USA), in order to learn lessons that could assist South Africa in framing legislation and best practices for ADR. It contends that, in order to effectively develop and implement ADR to address medical malpractice litigation, it requires the involvement of the government, legislature, judiciary, legal profession and the public. It has identified court- iv annexed mediation as the appropriate ADR mechanism in addressing medical malpractice litigation.