Mother of Disabled Child Ruled a ‘Primary Victim’ of Hospital Negligence

In a ground-breaking case, a heartbroken mother who was left traumatised after her daughter was born gravely disabled as a result of hospital negligence has won more than £75,000 in compensation

from the NHS. The High Court found that the mother was a primary victim of her daughter’s delayed delivery.

The mother was stricken by mental health problems after enduring the devastating experience of watching her baby girl fight for life. The child was taken from her straight after delivery and the first time she saw her daughter was in a plastic box in the hospital’s special care baby unit, surrounded by tubes and wires. An anxiety disorder later developed into depression when she realised the extent of her daughter’s injuries. When she felt unable to cope, she tended to run away from home and turn off her mobile phone, leaving her loved ones desperate.

The NHS trust that managed the hospital admitted that signs of foetal distress had been missed and that the delivery had been negligently delayed. It accepted full liability to compensate the disabled child. However, in disputing the mother’s right to damages, it denied that she had suffered a shock so profound as to cause a recognised psychiatric injury. It was argued that her mental health difficulties were largely caused by the stress of looking after a disabled child and that they were not sufficiently proximate to the negligent delivery to justify an award.

In upholding her claim, however, the Court noted that the negligence occurred before the girl’s birth. As a matter of law, mother and baby were one and the same legal person prior to delivery. The mother was, in the circumstances, a primary victim and had suffered a psychiatric injury that was closely linked to the admitted negligence. She was awarded £76,500 in damages. The amount of compensation payable to her daughter has yet to be assessed, but is likely to be measured in millions.

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