Jurica v. Croatia (no. 30376/13)

ECHR 144 (2017)
The applicant, Gordana Jurica, is a Croatian national who was born in 1953 and lives in Zagreb. The case concerned an allegation of medical negligence.
In January 1998 Ms Jurica brought civil proceedings against a public hospital and the relevant insurance company claiming damages following ear surgery which had caused one side of her face to be permanently paralysed. During the ensuing proceedings, a number of expert reports were admitted and hearings were held at which experts gave evidence in open court in the presence of the parties. Supplementary reports and fresh reports by new experts were also ordered. Relying on the expert reports thus obtained, which consistently found that Ms Jurica’s health issues had been the result of complications and not medical malpractice, the first-instance court dismissed her claim. She lodged a number of unsuccessful appeals, to both the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court, alleging that the medical experts in her case were biased as her allegations concerned their colleagues and as they were financially dependent on the hospital system. In her complaint to the Constitutional Court, Ms Jurica also alleged that the procedure before the civil courts was ineffective. This complaint was declared inadmissible in September 2012. In the meantime, she had also brought further civil proceedings to complain about the excessive length of the proceedings to decide on her claim; she was awarded 11,000 Croatian kunas (approximately 1,530 euros) in compensation.

Violation of Article 6 § 1:

Relying on Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time) and Article 8 (right to respect for private life) of the European Convention, Ms Jurica complained about the excessive length – over 14 years – and ineffectiveness of the medical negligence proceedings. She complained in particular about the inadequacy of the legal framework in Croatia concerning medical negligence and the lack of impartiality of the experts involved.

No violation of Article 8:

"Furthermore, the Court is unable to accept the applicant’s arguments that the objectivity of expert opinions in cases of medical negligence can automatically be called into doubt on account of the fact that the experts are medical practitioners working in the domestic health-care system. On the contrary, the Court has held that it is normal for expert opinions in such cases to be given by medical practitioners (see Csősz v. Hungary, no. 34418/04, § 35, 29 January 2008). Moreover, the Court has also held that the very fact that an expert is employed in a public medical institution specially designated to provide expert reports on a particular issue and financed by the State does not in itself justify the fear that such experts will be unable to act neutrally and impartially in providing their expert opinions (see Letinčić v. Croatia, no. 7183/11, § 62, 3 May 2016). What is important in this context is that the participation of an expert in the proceedings is accompanied with adequate procedural safeguards securing his or her formal and de facto independence and impartiality."

Just satisfaction: 3,500 euros (EUR) (non-pecuniary damage) and EUR 2,000 (costs and expenses)