In what could be a landmark case in New South Wales, a morbidly obese man has been awarded just over $350,000 from his doctor because he was not referred to a weight-loss clinic or sent for weight-loss surgery.
Luis Almario, 68, had been in the care of Manly GP Dr Emmanuel Varipatis between 1997 and 2011, Fairfax reports.
During that time, he weighed 140kg, despite being just 154cm tall. Since, the Supreme Court has found he has developed terminal liver cancer and now has about nine months to live.
The Supreme Court found Dr Varipatis – who is appealing the decision - was negligent in not sending his patient to an obesity clinic, or ensuring a surgeon assess his suitability for gastric band surgery.
It was found that Mr Almario was morbidly obese and suffered from a variety of conditions, including liver disease, when he first saw Dr Varipatis.
But Justice Joseph Campbell said: “I am satisfied that but for the negligence of the defendant, the liver disease would not have progressed to cirrhosis and one could have expected a great improvement in his health generally, had bariatric surgery been successful, and a healthful weight been achieved by Mr Almario following surgery.”
Mr Almario was awarded a total of $569,332 in damages, reduced to $364,372 after a number of factors – including his diet – were taken into account.
The Judge added: “Mr Almario is severely, totally and permanently disabled. He is almost entirely dependent upon others for the ordinary activities of daily life.
“All of his food is pureed, and he is fed via a naso-gastric tube. He can barely walk as far as the kitchen. He is on medications which are administered to him via the tube.
“He is reduced to doing little apart from sitting in the lounge watching television or sitting in his bedroom on the computer.”
However, there are fears the decision could hinder the work GPs do and affect the way resources are spent.
Dr Adrian Sheen, president of Doctor’s Action, told Fairfax: “This will force doctors to refer patients off for every test under the sun or fear being dragged into the courtroom. The cost to the health service will be astronomical.”