Inmate loses N$3.5m lawsuit

Jonas Penovanhu Shinana claims he went blind because prison medical staff did not provide him with the necessary urgent care when he reported eye problems in January 2015.

11 October 2019 | Justice

Namibian prison services were absolved of any blame in a N$3.5 million lawsuit brought by a prisoner who accused medical officers at the Windhoek prison of negligence that led to him losing his eyesight.

Jonas Penovanhu Shinana (35) filed the lawsuit in 2017, shortly before he was sentenced to two life terms for the murder of his two sons.

He sued for N$2 million for damages, plus N$1 million for loss of amenities in life, N$100 000 for post-traumatic stress and N$400 000 for general damages and wrongful stripping of his dignity.

Shinana claimed he went blind because medical staff did not provide him with the necessary urgent care when he reported eye problems in January 2015, and that he was never informed of the potential harmful side effects of the TB medication he had been given.

Acting High Court Judge Kaijata Kangueehi dismissed Shinana's case. Kangueehi ruled that Shinana did not provide the concrete evidence required to prove negligence.

“The court sympathises with the plaintiff,” the judge said, adding that Shinana also did not provide the court with the necessary evidence on how he had calculated his claim.

The judge said although Shinana's lawyers told the court in their opening statement that they would bring evidence to support the claim, “nowhere in the evidence in chief or cross-examination did the plaintiff, in any shape or form at least explain how he quantified the damages being claimed”.

The judge further noted that documents provided to the court, including Shinana's health passport and another document highlighting the side-effects of the medication, were not enough without being corroborated by an appropriate witness.

“The court has to this point not heard evidence to the effect of proving negligence,” the judge concluded.

Moreover, Kangueehi pointed out that two witnesses who “would have gone a long way in assisting” the case were never called to testify.



Blame denied

In his founding affidavit, Shinana claimed when he first complained of itchy and sore eyes in January 2015, he was told to “be a little more active, do some exercise”.

He said he was later told “there is no sign of eyesight problems and they proceeded to prescribe me Panado pills”.

In March, he was eventually referred to the Windhoek Central Hospital and underwent a scan which indicated abnormal swelling. He claims this condition was traced back to the TB medication he had been taking.

“After numerous follow-ups at the Windhoek Central Hospital, I was informed that I had lost about 80% of my eyesight and I was declared legally blind.”

While he was not called to testify, a witness statement provided to the court by Dr Willie Bruwer noted that that the medicine prescribed has the potential to lead to optic neuritis.

The doctor further said he was not able to find any evidence that Shinana had been advised of the possible side-effects of the medication.

He said it would have been diligent to immediately send the plaintiff for eye tests when he complained of itchiness and reddish eyes.

“It is medically possible that delay may have led to the plaintiff's current condition, as early removal of the causative agent may have stopped the process,” Bruwer wrote.

Papers filed on behalf of the safety and security ministry said the ministry denied any wrongdoing and that Shinana was provided with sufficiently quick medical help.

The defendants argued furthermore Shinana's blindness “was a gradual process and did not happen in one day or a week”.

They state further that Shinana “was unreasonable in taking too long to register the complaint about his deteriorating eyesight and painful eyes” and that he himself “brought about his own loss of eyesight”.

Shinana was represented by Taimi Iileka of Sisa Namandje and Co., while Freddy Kadhila was appointed as the government attorney.

JANA-MARI SMITH

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