Thousands may sue over illegal adoptions

A High Court decision to allow a woman who claims her baby was put up for adoption in the 1970s without her permission to sue for damages could open the door to challenges from thousands of women who had their children taken from them in forced and illegal adoptions.

The woman is suing a religious order and the HSE, as successor to the adoption agency which arranged the placement of her daughter more than 40 years ago, claiming the adoption was done without her knowledge while she was a resident with the order. She is not contesting the adoption order.

The woman claims she was not even consulted when, as a teen mother, the baby was taken for adoption. She says that she suffered psychological harm, among other injuries, due to the defendants’ alleged negligence, breach of duty, and breach of her constitutional rights.

She also claims fraud and undue influence in relation to documents she allegedly signed for the adoption.

The claims are denied.

Mr Justice Sean Ryan, who said the parties, with the exception of the HSE, should not be identified at this stage, described the case as a difficult, sensitive, and painful one.

The judge was only dealing with a preliminary issue as to whether the woman could sue for damages. He said she had no desire to upset the arrangement which had been made for her now adult child but was confining her claim to the alleged wrongs done to her.

The defendants had argued she was not entitled to claim damages without first challenging the validity of the adoption order and without also possibly bringing others into the case, such as the child, the adoptive parents, and the Adoption Authority of Ireland.

The issue was whether she could prove her damages case without proving facts which might invalidate the adoption order, said the judge.

It has also been argued by the religious order involved that she could not claim damages for being wrongfully deprived of her child unless the adoption order was declared invalid.

Ruling in her favour, Mr Justice Ryan said it was not a precondition of seeking damages for her to include a claim that the adoption order was invalid. It did not follow as a matter of law or logic that there should be such a rule, he said.

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