This blog was co-authored by candidate attorney, Thabo Kolele

In a March 2024 judgment  (, the High Court decided that the defendant had breached its legal duty owed to the claimant in failing to dispatch an ambulance to the claimant timeously and in failing to provide proper healthcare services whilst the claimant was in the ambulance for.

On 19 June 2013, the claimant was in an ambulance and under the medical supervision and care of the paramedics when she went into labour and gave birth to a stillborn child. The claimant issued summons claiming R1 500 000 from the defendant due to negligence on the part of the defendant, the Free State Department of Health,. The claimant was pregnant and due for delivery. The ambulance arrived at the claimant’s house at 14:16 after allegedly being called at 09:00. The claimant alleged that the defendant failed to dispatch an ambulance on time even after her husband went to the local clinic to ask for assistance in calling the ambulance after he failed to get through to the centre telephonically. When he got to the clinic he was advised to continue calling and no one assisted him at the clinic. Once the ambulance was dispatched and the claimant was on board till arrival at the hospital at 16:00, it was alleged that the paramedics failed to treat the claimant with a degree of care and skill and diligence applicable in the medical profession, which resulted in the death of the claimant’s baby.

The court reaffirmed that negligence can be defined as a failure to take reasonable care to avoid causing injury or loss to another person. To determine whether someone acted negligently, the court applies the objective “reasonable person test” to compare the person’s act or omission with the conduct expected of the reasonable person acting under similar circumstances. Where the person’s conduct does not meet that standard , it will be considered negligent. The claimant must prove that a professional duty owed to the claimant was breached; injury was caused by such breach; and that such injury resulted in damages.

The court referred to Kruger v Coetzee 1996 (2) SA 428 (A) where the court held that the claimant must prove not only that the possibility should have been foreseen but also that there were reasonable steps which should have been taken. The defendant or its employees must have reasonably foreseen that harm could arise and they could have taken steps to prevent such harm. Once a causal link between the birth of the child and the negligent conduct of the medical staff has been proved, the question of whether the defendant should have reasonably foreseen its conduct will bring undesirable consequences must be answered.

The court held that Section 11 of the National Health Act 16 of 2003establishes that the defendant has a duty to provide coordinated and effective emergency medical service in accordance with the established framework for a structured uniform health system within the Republic.

The court found that the claimant had succeeded in proving her case on a balance of probabilities. The clinic should have foreseen that the failure to call an ambulance for the claimant at the time the claimant’s husband went to the clinic could result in harm being suffered by the claimant. Further, the paramedics failed to provide the claimant with basic life support during transportation to ensure that the baby was born and remained alive. The employees of the defendant were found to have been negligent in failing to assist the claimant in accordance with established standards of care. The defendant was ultimately found to be vicariously liable for the conduct of its employees.

The amount of the damages has still to be determined (or settled). The judgment does not say what the basis of the claim for damages is.

This is a poorly reasoned judgment on the facts and there may be an appeal.  The message to take away is that negligently provided ambulance services may lead to liability.

Marumo v Member of the Executive Council for Health: Free State Province (24/2015) [2024] ZAFSHC 66