Friday 14 December 2018

Couple whose son was stillborn in medical negligence case hit out at claims system 'which puts women on trial'

Mignon and Derek Underwood have been working with Labour TD Alan Kelly on a new piece of legislation (Photo: Larkin)
Mignon and Derek Underwood have been working with Labour TD Alan Kelly on a new piece of legislation (Photo: Larkin)
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

A COUPLE whose son was stillborn following medical negligence have hit out at the State Claims Agency for using suicidal ideation as a marker for measuring psychological distress.

Mignon and Derek Underwood’s son Conor was stillborn in Wexford General Hospital in September 2012. Following a legal battle the couple secured an apology in the High Court for failures in the care provided.

The family have worked with Labour TD Alan Kelly on a new piece of legislation, the Civil Liability (Amendment) Bill 2018, which would allow families whose child is stillborn due to medical negligence to seek compensation for psychological distress.

Mr Kelly said the bill will address an anomaly in the law that sees parents whose child is stillborn unable to seek recourse in the same way as families whose child is born alive but later dies.

Mr Kelly said the bill would allow families a recourse in such distressing circumstances and allow them to have their expenses covered and act as recognition of what happened to them.

Mrs Underwood said the current system currently "puts women on trial". 

"You have to prove your level of pain and suffering to the point where they measure your compensation as to whether you tried to [take your own life]... that’s the bar they set," she said. 

"Hopefully if this bill is passed women won’t have to be on trial."

Her husband, Conor, also said the situation must change.

"The days of putting women on trial to prove they have suffered at the hands of medical negligence, it's disgraceful and it needs to stop," Mr Underwood said.

Mr Underwood told the that following the legal wrangling when dealing with the State Claims Agency it felt as though their family’s suffering was being minimised by the State.

"This bill will go a long way to remedy that, so nobody else has to prove that they’re psychology damaged. It’s the absolute worst in our system," he said.

Mrs Underwood sued the HSE claiming the death of baby Conor and the injuries suffered by his mother was caused by the alleged negligence of the HSE and a failure to diagnose pre-eclampsia on a timely basis. The case was settled and an apology on behalf of the hospital which expressed "their sincere and unreserved apologies for the shortcomings in the care provided for you and your baby in September 2012".

The Underwoods hope that the bill brought forward by Labour this week, termed Conor’s Law, will be a legacy for their son.

A spokesperson for the State Claims Agency said:

"The Agency is conscious that, while it has a statutory duty to act in the best interest of taxpayers, it also has a duty towards people who have suffered from medical negligence and who take legal actions against the State or State bodies.

"It is acutely conscious that in many cases these people, together with their families, have suffered significant trauma and pain.

"Recognising this, the Agency aims to act fairly, ethically and with compassion in its dealings with these people and their families and in the management of all cases that fall within its remit.

"The Agency takes every step it can to ensure that litigation is handled sensitively so that no additional distress is caused to the person who has made the claim, or to his or her family."

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