Dodov v. Bulgaria

Dodov v. Bulg., App. No. 59548/00, 47 Eur. H.R. Rep. 41 (2008).
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Applicant, Mr. Dodov is a Bulgarian national. His mother, Mrs. Stoyanova, suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and disappeared from a state-owned nursing home and was never found. Efforts by applicant to bring criminal and civil proceedings against the hospital staff for negligence in causing the disappearance of his mother did not yield results.

Relying on Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights, applicant alleged that his mother’s life had been put at risk through the negligence of Sofia Nursing Home staff, that the police had not undertaken all necessary measures to search for his mother immediately after her disappearance and that the investigations had not resulted in criminal or disciplinary sanctions.

Further relying on Article 6 § 1 (right to fair trial) of the Convention, he complained about the excessive length of the civil proceedings to obtain compensation.

The Court considered the sphere of application of Article 2 of the Convention to extend beyond the direct deprivation of life. The staff had known that Mrs Stoyanova should not be left unattended as that could result in danger for her health. The staff had negligently left her unattended thereby establishing a chain of events that triggered Mrs Stoyanova’s disappearance and resulting loss of life.

The Court found there was a causal link between Mrs. Stoyanova’s presumed death and the negligence on the part of the nursing home staff such as to trigger the application of Article 2 in respect of the alleged deficiencies in the legal system's reaction to such negligent acts. The Court found that the Government had failed in its duties to establish regulations compelling appropriate measures for the protection of patients' lives in the healthcare context, establishing an effective independent judicial system, securing the legal means capable of establishing facts in such circumstances, as well as holding those at fault accountably and providing redress to victims. Despite the availability in Bulgarian law of three avenues of redress - criminal, disciplinary and civil - the authorities, in practice, had breached their duties in violation of Article 2.

The Court, however, was not convinced that the reaction of the police to Mrs. Stoyanova's disappearance was inadequate in the circumstances and therefore, no violation of Article 2 of the Convention in this respect was found.

The Court found that the delay in the civil proceeding by the domestic courts was inconsistent with their duty to act with particular expedition in a case concerning the right to life. It therefore concluded that the civil proceedings, which had lasted ten years, did not correspond to the "reasonable time" requirement and that the State had failed to provide an adequate and timely response in violation of Article 6-1.

"70. The Court observes that the domestic authorities in the course of the criminal investigation against the staff of the nursing home established (although the finding never became final) that Mrs Stoyanova had been on a "closed regime" and the staff had known that she should not be left unattended as that could result in danger for her health or life. It also became clear that the staff had left her unattended and there was a direct connection between that failing on their part and the applicant's mother's disappearance (see paragraphs 23 and 42 above). Furthermore, the Court considers that the sphere of application of Article 2 of the Convention cannot be interpreted as being limited to the time and direct cause of the individual's death. Chains of events that were triggered by a negligent act and led to loss of life may also fall to be examined under Article 2 (see Öneryıldız v. Turkey [GC], no. 48939/99, ECHR 2004 XII)." Page 11-12.

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