Family settles action over death of woman (44) from breast cancer

Catherine Halligan’s death was ‘avoidable’, her family’s solicitor told court

The family of a 44-year-old woman who died of breast cancer has settled a High Court action against the Health Service Executive (HSE) over her death.

Catherine Halligan, an executive officer with the Courts Service in Waterford, was a much-loved wife, mother, daughter and sister, the court heard.

The family’s senior counsel, Oonah McCrann, instructed by Ernest Cantillons solicitors, said the tragedy for Ms Halligan’s family was that her “death was avoidable”.

Brendan Halligan, Ms Halligan’s widower, sued the HSE over his wife’s death in November 2018 more than four years after she first was investigated for a lump on her breast.


It was claimed the HSE failed to provide appropriate care for Ms Halligan and that there was a failure to carry out an appropriate triple assessment of a mass on her right breast, including a biopsy, when she was examined at the Breast Clinic at University Hospital Waterford on June 4th, 2014.

It was further claimed there was a delay in the treatment of Ms Halligan’s breast cancer and there was an alleged failure to refer her for a breast MRI scan after an irregular lump was recorded on June 4th, 2014, and noted by a consultant surgeon as suspicious for cancer and probably malignant.

There had been, it was alleged, an inappropriate concentration on an abnormality detected on Ms Halligan’s left breast in the June assessment. It was further contended that in the June 2014 assessment there was an alleged failure to comply with appropriate hospital, national, and international guidelines for the assessment of breast cancer symptoms.

The HSE admitted liability for the delay between June and October 2014 in the diagnosis, treatment, care and management of Ms Halligan’s breast cancer. However, causation remained at issue over whether Ms Halligan’s death was caused by the admitted delay.

Counsel told the court that the action had settled after mediation and the case was before the court for the division of the statutory mental distress solatium payment of €35,000 only. She said a separate nervous shock action brought by Mr Halligan had also been settled.

In the proceedings brought by Mr Halligan, of St John’s Park, Waterford, it was claimed that Ms Halligan had found a lump in her right breast in May 2014 but she was not diagnosed with cancer until October 2014. At that stage, she had a right mastectomy, lymph node removal, and chemotherapy, and it was claimed was later told she was cancer free.

Four years later in June 2018, Ms Halligan was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer with secondaries and she died on November 19th, 2018.

Noting the settlement, Mr Justice Paul Coffey said it was fair and reasonable and he conveyed his deepest sympathy to Ms Halligan’s husband, daughter, and extended family.

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