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Man can sue over "26-year misdiagnosis"
The Daily Telegraph
May 10, 1997
by Terence Shaw,
A man who claims he spent 26 years doped on benzodiazepine tranquilliser drugs after being wrongly diagnosed as schizophrenic, was told by the High Court yesterday that he had not missed his chance to sue for compensation.
Judge Andrew Geddes ruled that David Piper, 49, could go ahead with his claim for damages against the West Kent Health Authority who employed the doctor who diagnosed him as suffering from schizophrenia in 1966 when he was 18.
The judge rejected the health authority's view that the damaged claim was time-barred because the injury Mr Piper said he suffered from the drugs occurred more than three years before he discovered he had been wrongly diagnosed and launched his legal action.
The judge said he was satisfied that it was only when Mr Piper learned about the misdiagnosis, in March 1992, that he knew enough to investigate whether that misdiagnosis was negligent and whether he had a case.
After being diagnosed as a schizophrenic in 1966, Mr Piper, of Chatham, Kent, spent two periods in a psychiatric hospital, was given electro- convulsive therapy and was prescribed Valium until March 1992.
Medical reports said he had been "simply written off" after the diagnosis, and deprived of the opportunity to gain regular employment or form friendships and lasting relationships. One doctor described the medication as leaving him in a state "almost like permanent hibernation".
After reading newspaper reports that Valium could be addictive, Mr Piper saw new doctors who concluded that he had never suffered from schizophrenia and that his true complaint was phobic anxiety.
Mr Piper then launched his action against the health authority claiming compensation for personal injury caused by the alleged negligent diagnosis.
The authority denies negligence and sought to have Mr Piper's action struck out as being "statute-barred". Mr Piper told the judge he felt "bitter" about the misdiagnosis. "I had lost all those years and I can't get them back," he said. After he was weaned off the drugs, he felt "fully alive" for the first time in years.
In ruling that the claim against the health authority could go ahead, Judge Geddes rejected argument by its lawyers that Valium would still have been prescribed if Mr Piper had been correctly diagnosed as suffering from an anxiety disorder and that his injuries were not attributable to the misdiagnosis.
It was clear that the drugs had been prescribed as treatment for schizophrenia, said the judge, and it must follow that any injury suffered by Mr Piper as a result of taking the drugs stemmed from a diagnosis which Mr Piper claimed was wrong and negligent.
He also rejected claims by the authority that Mr Piper should have realised that the side effects were completely outside what he might have expected from the drugs and that he should have sought medical advice.
Mr Piper also sought damages against two GPs, Dr Yasine Karim and Dr Azizul Hasan, for their alleged negligence in continuing to prescribe benzodiazepine tranquilliser drugs.
But the judge ruled that his claim against Dr Karim was statute-barred in its entirety, and that the claim against Dr Hasan should be allowed to continue for any negligence only since August 1989. Both doctors had denied liability.
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