There was no evidence before an inquest jury to support the verdict that a Co Waterford couple’s newborn baby died of natural causes, the High Court has heard.
Natasha Cummins and Aiden Spencer claim the Cork City Coroner that oversaw the inquest into the death of their son Tommy did not adequately direct the jury on certain matters, particularly on the use at University Hospital Waterford of the contraction augmentation drug Oxytocin during the delivery of their baby son.
They allege the inquest led to an “irrational” jury verdict that their baby died of brain damage as a result of natural causes.
Their claims are denied.
Joseph Dalby SC, instructed by solicitor Cormac Lohan, for the couple, said on Tuesday that the jury’s verdict of death by natural causes “flies in the face of common sense”. The coroner, he said, had discretion whether or not to use a jury during inquests and he said there was very complicated medical evidence presented that perhaps should not have been for a jury to assess.
Mr Dalby said the jury’s verdict ignored the evidence that the mother was experiencing hyperstimulation, or excessive contractions, during her labour on July 13th, 2018.
Ms Cummins repeatedly exceeded five contractions within the space of 15 minutes, displaying hyperstimulation for a total of 135 minutes in under seven hours, he said. The frequency and intensity of contractions increased the risk of uterine rupture, he said.
It is part of their case that the medical care during Ms Cummins’s labour, and the use of oxytocin, were material circumstances relevant to the death of her baby and its causes.
It is claimed Ms Cummins was a high-risk labour as her first child was delivered by Caesarean section. Despite that, Oxytocin was administered to her, was continued beyond the recommended timeline and in contradiction of the hospital’s protocols, it is alleged.
When fully dilated some 34 hours after her admission to hospital, and after five hours of oxytocin, it is claimed she was directed to deliver her baby vaginally.
It is alleged Ms Cummins suffered a uterine rupture which resulted in a severe and sustained drop in the foetal heartbeat, causing a lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain. The baby was born alive at 7.57pm on July 14th, but “flat”, and after being moved to Cork University Hospital his life support was turned off on July 18th.
Coroner Philip Comyn’s September 10th, 2020 recording of the inquest jury’s verdict stated the disease/condition leading to death was “acute hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy due to intra-uterine hypoxia due to placental malperfusion [an association of encephalopathy]”.
Mr Dalby said his side accepted the coroner had left open to the jury the option of returning an open verdict, but upon his recollection, there was no misadventure option.
He said the couple, with an address in Cappoquinn, Co Waterford, was at a disadvantage in their judicial review because there was no audio recording of the hearing.
The couple is asking the High Court to overturn the jury’s verdict and direct that a new inquest must be held to establish the cause of death.
The claims are denied.
Ms Justice Marguerite Bolger is due to hear submissions from the respondent side on Wednesday.