ACT Government Should Implement Judge Ipp’s Recommendations on Tort Law Reform – 11 August 2003

The ACT government will not be acting in the best interest of patients and future patients if it moves to water down the recommendations of Justice David Ipp on Tort Law Reform, said Dr Stan Doumani, ACT Chairman of the Australian Doctors’ Fund.

Justice Ipp, Chairman of the Review of Negligence Panel, has recommended that the limitation period for a medical negligence claim “is 3 years from the date of discoverability” and that the claim should be statute barred on the expiry of the limitation period or “a long stop period of 12 years after the events on which the claim is based” have occurred.

The date of discoverability “is the date when the plaintiff knew or ought to have known” that they had suffered a significant injury which was attributable to negligent conduct. The Ipp report makes special provision for children with problem guardian and parents and for people “under a disability” who may be unable to comply with the limitation period conditions.

NSW has already enacted legislation with Justice Ipp’s recommendations.

Dr Doumani said, “The ACT is not an island. Any attempt to have softer legislation than currently exists in NSW will simply see less specialists and GPs, particularly obstetricians, wanting to practice in the ACT. That means patients may have to travel into NSW to obtain their medical and hospital treatment in the future.”

“The Tort Law Reforms in NSW were recommended by senior legal and judicial experts. They are not a doctor’s wishlist.”

“Now sadly we are seeing the ACT government wanting to go against Justice Ipp’s recommendations and extend the statute of limitations to 6 years instead of 3, as in NSW.”

“It is critical that potential plaintiffs have a signal to make their claims as early as possible so that vital evidence can be gathered and that provision for the claim can be made as close to the doctor’s insurance as possible. It does not mean that all claims will be settled within 3 years.”

“The ACT government is making Tort Law Reform far more complex than it needs to be and is providing a disincentive for some specialists and GPs to continue practising.”

“People living in the ACT want access to high quality medical services including private obstetric services. The ACT government can meet this need by creating a framework of certainty for doctors practising obstetrics within the bounds of judicial fairness. The ACT government should implement the Ipp recommendations without delay”, said Dr Doumani.