Think Twice Before Giving Medical Advice

Educational institutions ranging from nursery schools through to universities and even educators, in their personal capacity, can be held legally liable for any medical advice dispensed on any social media platform.

An educator’s well-intended advice to a parent on how to medicate their child’s flu could very well result in a lawsuit on the basis of vicarious liability**. Many a parent or caregiver actively participates in social media groups created by educational institutions on Facebook, WhatsApp and the like, to keep in touch and abreast of events or news from the school. But many educators are, however, unaware that they can be held liable for any information dispensed within such a social media group, especially when it comes to medical advice.

In a recent outbreak of Scarlet fever in Gauteng schools, a teacher posted on a WhatsApp group created by the school for parents that, should their child present with any symptoms, they rather “sit it out since the illness does not respond to antibiotics.”

Dispensing Medical Advice In A Social Channel

If a teacher is dispatching medically related advice for and on behalf of the school in their duties and recipients of such advice act on it with negative outcomes, the school can be held vicariously liable. The teacher or staff member can also be held liable in their personal capacity for any negative outcome pertaining to this advice. This is according to Gary Ferguson, Head of Claims at Aon South Africa.

Pubic Liability

Parents need to determine if the school that their child is going to has public liability cover and request to know exactly what this entails carefully. This “will allow for a full understanding of the nature of the institution, the risks that it could be exposed to in addition to any exclusions that may exist,” explains Ferguson.

Mitigating Risk

“It is never advisable to use a social media platform such as WhatsApp, Facebook or twitter to dispense professional advice of any kind or nature. A more amenable approach would be to refer parents to an article written by a medical practitioner or pharmaceutical company on the use of antibiotics, and simply state: ‘Refer to your GP for consideration in treatment.’ The issue of liability could have a very different outcome as no advice was dispensed by the teacher,”


It is never advisable to use a social media platform such as WhatsApp, Facebook or twitter to dispense professional advice of any kind or nature. A more amenable approach would be to refer parents to an article written by a medical practitioner or pharmaceutical company on the use of antibiotics, and simply state: ‘Refer to your GP for consideration in treatment.’ The issue of liability could have a very different outcome as no advice was dispensed by the teacher.suggests Ferguson.

“Prior to social media, the defendant had some form of protection in that the argument usually boiled down to a ‘he said, she said’ scenario with best evidence prevailing. However, under social media the advice is written and distributed, and can therefore not be argued against,” Ferguson concludes. In the best interests of their child’s health, parents are strongly advised to always get medical advice on any issue directly from their medical professional.

**Vicarious liability is a legal doctrine that assigns liability for an injury to a person who did not cause the injury but who has a particular legal relationship to the person who did act negligently, such as an employer or an educator, in this instance.

Aon South Africa is a leading provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerag, human capital and management consulting, and speciality insurance underwriting. Visit aon.com or follow www.facebook.com/AonSouthAfrica

SOURCE: AON SOUTH AFRICA

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