Girl (12) with cerebral palsy awarded €3 million in High Court settlement

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A €3 million settlement, made without admission of liability, has been approved by the High Court for a permanently disabled young girl with cerebral palsy who alleged negligence in the circumstances of her delivery at the National Maternity Hospital.

The hospital had strongly disputed liability for the injuries suffered by Orlaith Sweetman-Healy in 2006 and contended the damage suffered by her was a result of a foetal stroke for which it could not be held responsible.

Denis McCullough SC, for the child, now aged 12, said on Tuesday his side considered the full value of the “complicated” case was €10-11 million but believed the risk of losing it was so great they recommended the court approve the €3 million offer, made following a mediation.

Mr Justice Kevin Cross said he had “no hesitation” approving the offer as the case had “a whole lot of difficulties”.

The fact Orlaith was as well as she is “is a great credit to the parents”, he added.

Cathie Sweetman-Healy, the child’s mother, told the judge she understood the risks of proceeding with the case and was happy to accept the offer on behalf of her daughter, whom she described as “one in a million”.

The money will be applied towards buying a new house suitable to Orlaith’s needs and care assistance, she said.

Ms Sweetman-Heal said Orlaith, who was in court in a wheelchair, was “getting on great” and, like every other 12-year-old, was constantly on her ipad and “is a normal kid insofar as she can be”. She was very grateful for the support of their families and of their lawyers and “am just glad it’s all over now.”

Outside court, Ms Sweetman-Healy, accompanied by her husband Jim, said she considered the care received at the hospital at the time of Orlaith’s birth in 2006 to be “sub-standard”.

She hoped the case would “shine a light” on the situation in an effort to avoid any other family having such an experience.

Allegations

Orlaith, through her mother, of Jamestown Road, Inchicore, Dublin, had sued the hospital for alleged negligence in relation to the birth of the child there on November 17th, 2006.

Among a range of pleas, it was alleged the hospital failed to carry out any, or any proper, monitoring of mother and baby in the course of her labour and delivery and/or to act on the results of such monitoring in a proper and timely manner or at all.

Mr McCullough, instructed by solicitor Michael Boylan, said Ms Sweetman-Healy became pregnant in March 2006 on her first pregnancy and was booked into the National Maternity Hospital. She went to the hospital on November 17th reporting decreased foetal movements and was admitted.

Because results of a CTG scan were “non-reassuring”, a decision was made about 4.25pm to carry out an emergency caesarean section. That began at 6.03pm and the baby was born at 6.09pm in poor condition.

Mr McCullough said the hospital records did not show any documentary record of foetal heart rate after 5.20pm until birth.

Their case was there was negligent delay in carrying out the caesarean section.

He said it was agreed the baby had suffered a foetal stroke about two to three weeks before delivery but his side argued the baby also suffered a hypoxic iscahemic injury two to three days before delivery and, had a caesarean section been carried out earlier, the child would have avoided a good deal of her injuries.

Defence experts disputed that and said the injury suffered could only have happened before 34-35 weeks gestation and there was nothing the hospital could have done about it.

While the defence also seemed to accept there was a later hypoxic ischaemic injury, they did not accept that was a causation factor in relation to the child’s injuries and maintained all the damage was due to the foetal stroke, he said.

The Irish Times

April 2019