A 45-year-old Tipperary woman who claimed she suffered brain damage around the time of her birth has won a €5m settlement of her High Court action.
Claire Sullivan’s case is believed to be the oldest ever such birth action alleging negligence and breach of duty before the courts. Claire was not in court to see her settlement approved but was represented by her mother Caroline and sister Sandra.
The settlement against the HSE is without an admission of liability and was reached after the case had been at hearing for four days before the High Court.
Claire Sullivan was born in an ambulance which had to pull in to the side of the road as she was being transferred from a district hospital in Tipperary to a general hospital.
Her counsel, Patrick Treacy SC instructed by Cian O’Carroll solicitors, told the High Court it was their case Claire suffered a traumatic birth because of the ongoing continued blood loss of her mother, which had started in her kitchen the day before.
He said it was their case that Claire suffered a chronic partial asphyxia because of the blood loss of her mother over time and she suffered a brain injury and she also has epilepsy.
Claire Sullivan from Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary, had through her mother Caroline Sullivan sued the HSE over the care provided around the time of her birth in 1977.
It was claimed there was an alleged failure to recognise that the blood loss sustained by Mrs Sullivan prior to attending the district hospital, St Brigid’s Hospital, Carrick-on-Suir was not a show and there was an alleged failure to transfer Mrs Sullivan to another hospital in a timely manner.
It was further claimed that Claire Sullivan was allegedly caused to suffer her injuries when by the exercise of reasonable care and skill it could and should have been avoided.
The claims were denied.
Counsel said it was a complex case which referred to events almost 45 years ago.
He said Mrs Sullivan, who already had three children, was in her kitchen preparing food on May 8, 1977, when she had a sudden gush of blood down her legs and onto the floor. She was admitted to St Brigid’s District Hospital in Carrick-on-Suir at 1pm.
He said it was their case that Mrs Sullivan should have been transferred immediately to St Joseph’s Hospital in Clonmel. Ms Sullivan had given evidence during the four days at hearing that she told a midwife at St Brigid’s about the loss of blood in her kitchen, but it was recorded by the midwife as a ”heavy show”.
Counsel said it was their case that the mother had clearly represented she had a blood loss or haemorrhage and a transfer to the other hospital should have taken place. He said if the transfer had happened then, Mrs Sullivan would have been assessed and a Caesarean section performed, and Claire would have been born by 2pm on May 8.
He said while the mother was sitting in St Brigid’s Hospital, she was cold and shivering, which could indicate shock from blood loss.
Mr Treacy said when Mrs Sullivan brought the ongoing trickle of blood she was experiencing to the midwife, she was rebuked and the midwife said “For God’s sake, you already have had three children.” Counsel said the mother did not complain any further.
When there was a change of shift, he said at 8pm a nurse came on duty and counsel said it was not communicated to her that Mrs Sullivan had a haemorrhage at home and had been haemorrhaging during her time in St Brigid’s Hospital.
Shortly before 4am, Mrs Sullivan rang the bell and the nurse found her in labour. A decision was made to transfer to St Joseph’s Hospital, but counsel said five miles before Clonmel, the ambulance had to pull into the side of the road and Claire was born.
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.