Woman awarded €170,000 for loss of baby
A High Court judge has awarded €170,000 damages to a woman whose baby was stillborn due to the necessary blood not being available in an ambulance. Fiona Ní Chonchubhair (36), bleeding internally and almost 32 weeks pregnant, was sent on a two-hour 70-mile journey to another hospital.
What had happened to Ms Ní Chonchubhair and her husband Stephen Cotter during her second pregnancy was “a disaster”, “the stuff of nightmares” and must be “burnt into their memories as an example of the most disastrous incompetence”, Mr Justice Seán Ryan said.
What had happened involved “bad-decision making”, “extraordinary ineptitude” and a further delay when she arrived at hospital, he said. It was accepted by the Health Service Executive this led to “a dreadful tragedy” whereby the couple’s baby died.The judge said he must award damages on the basis of legal principles, not on expressing human sympathy or his sense of indignation. He assessed damages of €170,000 for Ms Ní Chonchubhair against the HSE.
Ms Ní Chonchubhair, Countess Road, Killarney, Co Kerry, sued for severe personal injuries and shock due to negligence and breach of duty arising from the stillbirth of her son, Aodh.
She had been sent by ambulance from Kerry General Hospital in Tralee on a 70-mile journey to Cork Regional Hospital.
When the ambulance arrived at CRH, it took another 15 to 20 minutes for the crew to locate the accident and emergency unit, the court heard.
Six units of blood
Ms Ní Chonchubhair was operated on and received six units of blood to replace what she had lost but the transfusion was too late for her baby. He was delivered stillborn by emergency Caesarean section on May 16th, 2009. Had she received a transfusion en route, she would have suffered a less severe level of hypovolaemic shock, which had resulted in the baby not getting enough oxygen, Eugene Gleeson SC said.
Emily Egan SC, for the HSE, had at the outset of the case offered an apology for what had happened to the couple. Liability was admitted and the case was before the judge for assessment of damages only.
When the case opened, the judge was told the HSE had carried out an internal review and had made 12 recommendations to ensure it would not recur. Ms Ní Chonchubhair, now a mother of three and expecting her fourth child, told the judge she had no confidence the recommendations would be followed.
Before awarding damages, Mr Justice Ryan said the couple, a dentist and orthodontist, had every reason to believe Ms Ní Chonchubhair was in exactly the right place, a hospital, when she experienced difficulties traced back to another operation in England, he said.
He noted she felt they were ignored and treated with some degree of indifference in the Tralee hospital. He said he wanted to concentrate on the serious questions, that there was a transfer of 70 miles to Cork Regional Hospital when there should not have been.
It was “scarcely credible” in this day and age an ambulance would be arranged and a patient suffering from internal bleed would be put into that without someone thinking of having the necessary cross-matched blood for transfusion.
It was also clear from Mr Cotter’s evidence that the ambulance managed to take some slow route from Tralee to Cork to arrive after him, although he had headed home as his wife was about to leave Tralee, the judge said.
In fairness, the judge added, the HSE had apologised, there was a clear admission of responsibility and that should make some difference. He added one could speculate “as to what might be a useful follow-up”, whether to ask a person to come to hospital and help avoid this in the future.
He found Ms Ní Chonchubhair had experienced elements of post-traumatic stress disorder, severe bereavement disorder and adjustment disorder. Since this tragedy, she had suffered flashbacks and intrusive recollections, he said. She had also experienced not just anger but a raw visceral rage.
On the positive side, the couple had been blessed with two children since, Mr Justice Ryan added.