M v Betsi Cadwaladr University Local Health Board 09.05.11

The Claimant, a 43-year-old woman, received £150,000 after her child was stillborn in October 2007. She had worked as a midwife at the hospital where she gave birth and due to the incident she wished to retrain. The 40-year-old Claimant was admitted to a hospital of the Defendant trust with reduced foetal movements. However, it was not until the afternoon of the next day that she was taken to theatre for an emergency caesarean section. A post-mortem report stated that the cause of death was hypoxic brain disease and noted that foetal hypoxia had occurred for at least “several hours” before delivery.

The Claimant alleged that the Defendant had failed to detect the abnormal CTG trace, as a result of which, the foetus had suffered hypoxia and died. Liability was admitted.

Effect on employment

Before the incident occurred, the Claimant had worked part-time as a midwife for the Defendant in the hospital in question. After the stillbirth, despite trying to return to work, she was unable to continue to do so. The Claimant’s evidence was that she exhibited a specific phobia of working as a midwife - she had an overwhelming fear that she would no longer be capable of remaining calm in a life-threatening situation. Therefore, for technical, moral and medical reasons, she could not continue in her role as a midwife. She also felt unable to work in nursing.

The Claimant sought the costs of retraining. Her claim was advanced on the basis that she would obtain work of a similar remuneration after a successful period of retraining, including a university course. The settlement sum included an allowance for these costs.

Comment

As always, an award of damages turns on the specific facts of the case. It is not wholly surprising given the circumstances of the incident and the Claimant’s occupation that the defence team in this matter were satisfied a court would conclude this precluded her return to this form of employment. Given the significant proportion of people employed by the NHS the case should be distinguished from those in occupations not closely connected to an incident.