Ultimately Ms Sullivan was transferred by ambulance to Clonmel in the middle of the night however it was too late and her daughter was born on the road to Clonmel and with significant brain injuries due to a lack of oxygen supply, most likely caused by the uterine bleeding that had been ongoing during the course of the preceding day. The baby suffered a serious brain injury and developed chronic and severs epilepsy that has been both limiting and progressive such that full-time care is now required. The allegations of negligence and causation of harm were denied by the HSE but the case settled after five days of evidence for the sum of €5m - a very substantial sum that will now provide for the future care of the plaintiff.
The case was very unusual because it was commenced in July 2018, 41 years after the alleged negligence. While the normal time limits for commencing legal proceedings do not apply where an injured person has an intellectual incapacity, the HSE still argued very strongly that after such a passage of time, they could not be expected to defend this case and that it should be struck out. The argued that most of the medical records were destroyed when a medical records storage container on the grounds of Tipperary University Hospital was attacked by vandals and set alight on two separate occasions. They argued that one of the nurses who was present during the day when Ms Sullivan alleged she had been bleeding was now retired and elderly and they did not want to upset her by interviewing her about what had happened in 1977 and they argued that natural justice required that the case be struck out. They brought a preliminary case or ‘motion’ before the High Court in this effort to have the case struck out and the High Court agreed with our argument that there were sufficient records available for the relevant expert witnesses to form an opinion on what had happened and how that had affected the Plaintiff. In the course of this motion, we received from the HSE statements taken from another nurse who was on duty when the plaintiff was transferred to Clonmel and this witness stated that she recalled these events very clearly and her account confirmed that there was evidence of substantial and sustained bleeding during the course of that day while Ms Sullivan was kept at the district hospital. This witness was later to give very compelling evidence at the trial but not before the HSE appealed the High Court decision to allow the trial to proceed to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal ruled in October 2021 that the trial could proceed fairly and accepted the plaintiff’s arguments just as the High Court had. With these major preliminary hurdles cleared, a trial date was set for the 31st March 2022 and the trial heard evidence from Ms Sullivan and the nurse who came on duty and detected the history of bleeding that led to the emergency transfer to an functioning obstetric unit before terms of settlement were agreed and approved by the High Court on Day 5 of the trial.
This was a landmark case that shows how in the right circumstances, even in the absence of hospital records, a life-changing sum of damages can be achieved that will provide peace of mind for an ageing parent who would otherwise have been unsure and even frightened about what would have happened to her intellectually challenged child in the event of her death or incapacity to care.
Further detail of the case is set out in the news article HERE(LINK). Judge Hanna, in ruling the case, was reported as follows: "Approving the settlement Mr Justice Michael Hanna acknowledged the care, love and affection given to Claire by her family and he said it has eased what has been a difficult life for her. The judge said to bring a case of such longevity to such a conclusion was a towering achievement and he praised Claire’s legal team for an outstanding achievement.”
This case illustrates that in the right factual circumstances, one should never assume it is too late to contemplate legal action for negligent obstetric care leading to harm for a child who has suffered a brain injury and one should always seem legal advice from an established solicitors legal practice with a clear and proven record in medical negligence cases. We say this simply because there are very few firms with an established record of knowledge and accomplishment in this area of practice and yet many solicitor’s websites will say that they specialise or at least have experience of medical negligence. Cases such as these require a particular type of experience and if any reader would like to be given a list of firms that offer high quality legal advice on this issue then please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.