Jade Keane v The HSE, Dermot Stones and the National Maternity Hospital
After seven days of trial Augustus Cullen Law successfully negotiated a settlement of €4.75 million on behalf of 10 year old Jade Keane who suffered from undiagnosed hydrocephalus, a treatable condition which results from excessive accumulation of fluid and increased pressure in the ventricles of the brain and caused in Jade’s case, severe brain damage resulting in devastating mental and physical disability.
The plaintiff was born on 21st March 2001 and would have escaped all or nearly all of the disabilities which now afflict her had she received the appropriate action in response to the enlarged circumference of her head, within the first 8 to 9 weeks of her life. Eventually at 12 weeks of age the plaintiff’s condition which was by then critical was diagnosed and properly treated by means of an operation inserting a shunt into her brain was performed. By that time however, irreparable brain damage was suffered. In view of this proceedings were brought against the HSE, the general practitioner Dr Stones and the National Maternity Hospital. Although each defendant admitted negligence at some point during the critical period when treatment could have prevented such devastating injuries, they contested liability on the ground of causation, claiming that the plaintiff’s condition occurred in utero and that their negligence did not cause the damage. Liability was contested for seven days, after which time a settlement of €4.75 million was secured by ACL which disposed of the plaintiff’s claim against all three defendants. However the trial proceeded as the three defendants still contested fault inter se and further evidence was heard by Mr Justice Ryan to determine their respective degrees of fault.
Crucial evidence was tendered to Mr Justice Ryan regarding the size of the plaintiff’s head at various intervals between her birth in March 2001 and diagnosis of hydrocephalus in June 2001, at which time the irreversible brain damage had been caused. The plaintiff baby was routinely examined prior to discharge and it was admitted on the part of the National Maternity Hospital that such assessment was sub-standard, as an abnormally large head circumference of 39cm was recorded and no actions were taken to investigate further something which is a typical feature of hydrocephalus. This was compounded by the subsequent assessments of the public health nurses and Dr. Stones. It transpired that there had been a failure on the part of one public health nurse on the 9th, 11th and 19th April 2001 to observe the significance of the plaintiff’s unusually large and expanding head circumference. On May 10th, it was further submitted in evidence that there had been a failure to properly follow up another nurse’s concerns that the plaintiff was suffering from such condition. Similar was admitted by Dr. Stones arising from his consultations with the plaintiff on 16th and 28th May, by which time it was likely that the damage had been done to the plaintiff.
On the issue of contribution of fault, the judgment was explicit in stating that each of the defendants or their servants or agents were grossly inept in their treatment of the plaintiff. In determining the respective degrees of fault of the three defendants, Mr Justice Ryan measured the hospital’s fault by reference to its status as a specialist facility, regardless of the fact that it was only involved in a single occasion of negligence. With regard to Dr. Stones and the public health nurses involved in the misdiagnosis, their failings were considered to be very severe due to instances of repeated negligence at a time when the condition was so developed that it should have been noticed by either or both. In view of this, Mr Justice Ryan failed to distinguish the degrees of blameworthiness of the National Maternity Hospital, the public health nurses and Dr Stones and each were ordered to contribute one third towards the secured settlement.
If you have any further queries, please contact any of the following from our Medical Negligence Group:
- Michael Boylan, Partner
- Joice Carthy, Partner
- Gillian O’Connor, Consultant
- Jamie Hart, Associate Solicitor
- David McKechnie, Associate Solicitor
- Ian Lavelle, Associate Solicitor
10 June 2011