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UAE: Court Orders Doctors to Pay Blood Money to Patient’s Family

(Apr. 16, 2019) On March 29, 2019, the United Arab Emirates Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi upheld the rulings of a criminal court of first instance and an appellate court to grant the family of a deceased patient the right to receive blood money. The Federal Supreme Court issued a decision ordering two Asian medical doctors each to pay a fine of 40,000 Emirati dirhams (AED) (about US$10,890) and AED200,000 (about US$54,443) in blood money to the family of a child who had died due to medical error and negligence after undergoing surgery. (Ahmed Abid, Two Doctors Convicted of Causing Death of a Child, ABU DHABI NEWS (Mar. 29, 2019) (in Arabic); Ismail Sebugwaawo, Doctors to Pay Dh 200,000 Blood Money for Causing Child’s Death in UAE, KHALEEJ TIMES (Apr. 3, 2019).)

Blood Money (Diyah) Under Islamic Law

The concept of diyah under Islamic law is monetary compensation paid by an individual who kills someone. (Diyah, in Encyclopedia Britannica (last updated June 4, 2015).) There are two cases when diyah is permissible:

Facts of the Case

The child, who was suffering from breathing problems, was taken to a hospital in a northern emirate for treatment and underwent surgery. (Sebugwaawo, supra.) The Public Prosecutor’s report states that during the surgery, the first doctor, the anesthesiologist, did not properly deal with the child’s hypoxia (abnormally low level of oxygen in the blood) and, insisting that the child’s condition was stable, allowed him to be transferred from the recovery room to the children’s ward without oxygen. (Abid, supra.) The second doctor neglected to check the percentage of oxygen in the child’s blood and intubate the child before he left the recovery room. (Aya Al-Deeb, Supreme Court Upholds Fine of 20,000 Dh Against Two Doctors, Along with Blood Money, AL-KHALEEJ (Mar. 29, 2019) (in Arabic).) According to the report, the failure of both doctors to provide the child with sufficient oxygen before discharging him from the hospital led to the deterioration of his condition and his death. (Abid, supra.)

Accused Doctors’ Defense

The doctors denied the accusation of medical negligence. They stressed that they had made all the required efforts to stabilize the patient’s condition and rejected the allegations that they had erred in the way they treated the patient. (Sebugwaawo, supra.)

Moreover, the second doctor stated that he does not share equal responsibility with the first and maintained that he was in charge of monitoring the patient’s condition only in the recovery room. Accordingly, his percentage of negligence was 30% while the first doctor should bear 70% of the responsibility. (Abid, supra.)

Report of the Medical Experts in the Case

The Court appointed a technical medical committee to evaluate the medical treatment adopted by the two doctors and submit a report to the Court. The medical committee’s report concluded that the doctors had failed to diagnose the patient accurately and take the measures required for treating this medical condition. (Al-Deeb, supra.)

The medical committee also stated in its report that the percentage of the oxygen in the patient’s blood started decreasing at the beginning of the surgery and was also unstable when the patient was in the recovery room. His condition was such that he should not have been transferred from the recovery room to the children’s ward of the hospital. (Abid, supra.)

Applicable Law

Law No. 4 of 2016 on Medical Liability applies to medical malpractice cases. Article 34 of the Law sanctions doctors who commit medical errors resulting in the loss of a patient’s life with a term of imprisonment of up to two years and/or a fine of up to AED500,000 (about US$136,105). (Law No. 4 of 2016, art. 34, AL-JARIDAH AL-RASMIYAH [OFFICIAL GAZETTE], vol. 601, 2 Aug. 2016), Dubai Health Authority website (in Arabic).)

Article 1 of Federal Law No. 3 of 1987 and its amendments state that Islamic law (Shari‘a) must apply to crimes requiring the payment of blood money. (Law No. 3 of 1987, AL-JARIDAH AL-RASMIYAH, vol. 182, 8 Dec. 1978.) Article 29 of Law No. 3 of 1978, as amended by Law No. 34 of 2005, provides that one or more of the following penalties may sanction an offense: imprisonment, a fine exceeding AED1,000 (about US$272), or blood money. (Law No. 34 of 2005 Amending Law No. 3 of 1987, art. 29, AL-JARIDAH AL RASMIYAH, vol. 441, 31 Dec. 2005), Abu Dhabi Judicial Department website (in Arabic).)