£575,000 pre-trial settlement for child left with cerebral palsy as a result of poor management during labour

Tees secured a £575,000 settlement for a child who suffers from mild motor, learning and cognitive impairment due to medical negligence.

Our client (HC) was born in 1985. Her mother (MC) became pregnant and - apart from suffering a urinary tract infection at 24 weeks - the pregnancy proceeded normally. 

However, at 34 weeks, MC was admitted to the West Suffolk Hospital following an examination in the ante-natal clinic as she had a history of experiencing irregular contractions.

Cardiotocography (CTG) was used to monitor both the baby’s heart rate and the contractions, and to check that the baby was not in distress. These checks were normal and re-assuring.

As MC’s contractions continued, she became very uncomfortable. Less than an hour later, the midwife noted signs of bradycardia - a condition where an abnormally slow heart rate is detected. The doctor was summoned, he noted that there was a slowing of the baby’s heartbeat and as he was unsure of the cause he requested a review by a consultant.

When the consultant examined the mother, he thought that there may have been a concealed haemorrhage (bleed) and ordered an immediate caesarean section. Prior to delivery, HC’s heart rate had continued to decline, and could not be detected five minutes before delivery. When she was born, she was unable to breathe by herself for around 30 minutes. She was transferred to Addenbrooke’s and placed in intensive care, where she remained for five days. 

Today, as a result of the trauma and problems experienced at her birth, HC, now in her 30s, suffers from mild motor impairment, mild learning and cognitive difficulties as well as some communication problems.

Tees reviewed the case in 2000, when HC was 15 years old. The time between HC’s birth and our investigation of the hospital’s management of the labour, added an extra layer of complexity to this case. Our specialist birth injury team worked hard to obtain copies of HC’s medical records, which were released by the hospital only gradually. We had concerns about the management of the labour, and examined all the medical notes thoroughly. In doing so, we raised several issues surrounding the management of HC’s delivery. Our enquiries focused on the timing of the consultant’s decision to order a caesarean section, and examining whether HC could have avoided brain damage if she had been delivered earlier (and whether she would have been starved of oxygen for so long).

Initially, the hospital vigorously challenged the claim that they were liable for clinical negligence during HC’s birth. However, Tees called on expert witnesses who provided in-depth information during the case and, in 2008, the case was settled out of court – avoiding the expense associated with a protracted court case. HC received a settlement of £575,000.

Janine Collier, Executive Partner at Tees and Head of Medical Negligence, said: “In this case, our perseverance paid off. Despite the significant amount of time between HC’s birth and Tees’ investigation, we were able to identify that throughout labour, there were signs that should have been picked up on which showed that HC was experiencing oxygen deprivation and that there should have been an earlier decision to deliver by emergency caesarean section.  Had this occurred, then HC might not have experienced brain damage.”

The settlement of £575,000 secured on HC’s behalf was placed into a Personal Injury Trust, to ensure that her future entitlement to means-tested benefits is protected. 

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Chat to the Author, Sarah Stocker

Associate, Medical Negligence, Cambridge office

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Sarah Stocker, medical negligence specialist in Cambridge
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