Woman awarded €320,000 after husband dies in hospital

Family calls on Ministers to order an ‘effective and thorough’ investigation into death of Peter Acton


The High Court has awarded €320,000 in damages to the widow of a Clondalkin man who died in Tallaght hospital in 2005 after being left without fluids over a five-hour period.

Lydia Acton, of St John’s Grove, was also awarded costs by Ms Justice Mary Irvine after the hospital unreservedly apologised in court for her husband Peter’s “untimely” death.

Mr Acton died of pneumonia, sepsis and multi-organ failure in the hospital on October 3rd, 2005, two days after he was admitted. Despite being diagnosed with dehydration on admission, at one point he begged his wife to take him home because he was so desperate for water and “did not want to die” in hospital, his inquest heard in May.

Inadequate monitoring
David Kennedy SC, for Ms Acton, told the court the severity of Mr Acton’s symptoms was not recognised and the subsequent management and monitoring of his condition was inadequate.

If he had been provided with ongoing fluid resuscitation and transferred to intensive care, he probably would have survived.

Mr Kennedy said the family had significant concerns about the way the matter was handled by the hospital after Mr Acton’s death. The death certificate was issued with a wrong cause of death, an adequate investigation was not carried out and the death was not reported to the coroner. There was also a delay in getting records.

Declan Buckley SC, for the hospital, said Tallaght hospital wished to state unequivocally and without reservation that it accepted full responsibility for the untimely death of Mr Acton.

“We also fully acknowledge that Mr Acton’s death was due to negligence and in particular the failure to properly address the severity of his condition at the time, combined with the failure to respond to Mr Acton’s deteriorating clinical situation thereafter.”

Measures and protocols
Mr Buckley said since 2005 the hospital had put in place a series of measures and clinical protocols to specifically assess deteriorating patients in order to prevent a recurrence of the circumstances which allowed “this incident” to occur.

“While there can be no consolation for the loss of a loved one, we wish to apologise sincerely and unequivocally for the sorrow and distress caused to Mr Acton’s family over his tragic and unnecessary death and for the personal trauma experienced by them. We hope the outcome from the proceedings will bring solace to the Acton family.”

Human rights breach
Speaking after the settlement, Mr Acton’s son-in-law John Burke called on Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and Minister for Health James Reilly to order an “effective and thorough” investigation into the death.

Mr Burke said the State was in breach of article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the right to life, which obligates it to investigate suspicious deaths.

“We ask that the Ministers do not cause any further distress to the Acton family by causing us to take a legal challenge under the 2003 European Convention on Human Rights Act.”