HSE disputes extent of damages sought over pregnant woman kept on life support

Peter Perie

The family of a brain-dead pregnant woman kept on life support for almost four weeks due to concerns about the Eighth Amendment are seeking some €3.3 million damages from the HSE over her death.

The State Claims Agency, which is managing the case for the HSE, disputes the extent of damages sought.

More than €3.1 million is for future costs of care and appropriate accommodation for 26-year-old Natasha Perie’s two young children, now aged 11 and nine, including the cost of full time live-in nannies for both until they reach the age of 23, plus for education and counselling.

The remainder is for some €184,000 for Ms Perie’s father, Peter Perie, for loss of dependency.

At the time of their mother’s death in late 2014, both children were living with her and Mr Perie, a 67-year-old widower, in his four-bedroom home where they were described as “happy and content”.

The children have different fathers and, after Ms Perie’s death, the children went to live with their respective fathers in accommodation not owned by the fathers.

A hearing opened before Ms Justice Deirdre Murphy on Tuesday for assessment of damages after a mediation failed to secure agreement on damages.

During the hearing, the judge and Adrienne Egan SC, for the HSE, expressed sympathy to the family over the death of Ms Perie.

The family had last November received an apology from the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, and the HSE over failings in Ms Perie’s care at the hospital in late 2014.

She was pronounced brain-dead days after her admission there on November 27th, 2014 but was afterwards kept on life support, against the family’s wishes, due to doctors’ concerns about the implications of the Eighth Amendment, since repealed.

The family ultimately secured High Court orders on December 26th, 2014 ending the somatic support after the court held the only prospect for the unborn was “distress and death”.

Ms Perie, described as having a rotting brain and open infected head wound, was buried afterwards in a closed coffin.

Her father and six other family members previously settled nervous shock claims, including a €150,000 payment for her daughter who was described as “horrified” when, then aged six, she saw her mother in a deteriorating condition on life support.

A nervous shock claim was not pursued for her son as he was aged just four at the time of his mother’s death.

The larger aspect of the family’s claim was for damages over fatal injury.

The HSE earlier last year accepted liability in that regard and accepted Ms Perie’s death was caused by failure to diagnose a brain cyst which ruptured, leaving her brain-dead days after her admission to the hospital on November 27th, 2014, having complained of severe headaches on a number of occasions.

On Tuesday, Denis McCullough SC, instructed by Gillian O’Connor, of Michael Boylan Litigation, told Ms Justice Murphy that both children, on the advice of a hospital social worker, were brought in to see their mother on life support and this was particularly traumatising for them.

Her daughter was also present when the life support was withdrawn.

A 2017 report by a child psychologist described the girl as having experienced “harrowing emotional difficulties”, he said.

He said the girl now lives with her father in rented council accommodation while the boy lives with his father in a house owned by the latter’s partner.

Their case was that both children needed their own homes or funds for appropriate rented accommodation until they reach the age of 23.

In evidence, Peter Perie described both fathers as loving fathers of their children and said he is now satisfied with access by himself and his extended family to the children.

In his evidence, the girl’s father said she was very affected by her mother’s death. “I know she’s hurting, the whole thing has broken her.”

He said his rented council accommodation in an area with anti-social behaviour is inadequate for her needs and believed she would be happier in a house with a garden in an area where she can safely play on the street.

The hearing continues on Wednesday.

Mary Carolan The Irish Times

January 2020