Hepatitis C settlement reached with blood board day before woman's death


SOLICITORS for Ms Brigid Ellen McCole, the woman who died yesterday after being infected with the hepatitis C virus, reached a compensation settlement with the Blood Transfusion Service Board shortly before her death.

Ms McCole, a mother of 12 from Co Donegal, was bringing the first test case to the High Court seeking compensation for infection from contaminated blood products. She was in her 50s, and died from liver failure in St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin.

Ms McCole claimed she had contracted hepatitis C during her pregnancies between 1969 and 1982 after treatment with anti-D.

Though details of her compensation settlement are not known, it is understood it was also agreed that her case against the State and the National Drugs Advisory Board would not be pursued. It is believed the final deal was reached only a day before her death.

Solicitors for Ms McCole and the BTSB issued a joint statement, which stated that there had been "significant developments" in the case over the past few days and, in view of the "tragic circumstances", there would be no announcement in the High Court until October 8th.

The case was to have been settled in the High Court yesterday but, because of Ms McCole's death, it was postponed until Tuesday, the original date set for the test case hearing. It is not clear whether the plaintiff's representatives and the defendant will reveal details of the settlement then.

There was no comment from the Department of Health last night on the grounds the case remains sub judice until the court recognises the settlement.

A spokesman for the BTSB said yesterday that, as far as he knew, Ms McCole was the first woman to die as a direct result of receiving contaminated anti-D immunoglobulin. However, Positive Action, the group representing women infected with hepatitis C through contaminated blood products, says other deaths have occurred among women who received contaminated anti-D and contracted hepatitis C.

Anti-D had been given to pregnant women to prevent haemolytic (or blue baby) syndrome.

Ms McCole was one of a number of women who had opted to take their compensation cases to the High Court instead of relying solely on the Government appointed Compensation Tribunal.

The tribunal had been criticised by Positive Action because it had not been enshrined in an Act of the Oireachtas and because it was founded on a "no fault" basis, so the issue of negligence would not arise.

About 60,000 women were screened after the discovery of the link between anti D and hepatitis C, of whom around 993 tested positive for the hepatitis C antibodies or the hepatitis C virus. The total number of men and women infected - including haemophiliacs and others who received contaminated blood products - is believed to be around 1,600.

Ms McCole began legal proceedings in the High Court last September. She claimed that in 1976 and 1977, the BTSB used plasma from a female exchange patient whom it knew had been clinically diagnosed as suffering from infective hepatitis and who had become jaundiced. She also claimed she had contracted hepatitis C during 12 pregnancies between 1969 and 1982 after treatment with anti D.

An application to pursue the case under an assumed name, "Bridget Roe", was rejected in February after Miss Justice Laffoy ruled that to do so would contravene Article 34 (1) of the Constitution.

Sources last night said that had Ms McCole not reached a settlement before her death, her family would have been able to go before the Government established tribunal to seek compensation or they could have gone to the High Court.

Under current legislation, the maximum amount which could be claimed by her dependants in the High Court would be £7,500. The new Civil Liability Bill would, if passed, raise this figure to £15,000.