| 7.7°C Dublin

HSE and labs lose Supreme Court appeal in Ruth Morrissey case


Ruth Morrissey. Pic: Collins Courts

Ruth Morrissey. Pic: Collins Courts


Ruth Morrissey. Pic: Collins Courts

The Supreme Court has upheld key High Court findings concerning the legal standard of care for cervical cancer screening.

The five judge court today dismissed most of the appeals by the HSE and two laboratories over findings in favour of Limerick woman Ruth Morrissey.

A screener should not give a clear result in respect of a slide “unless they had no doubt but that the sample was adequate and did not contain any suspicious material”, the Chief Justice, Mr Justice Frank Clarke said today.

“The standard is not one imposed by the court but rather one which stems from the profession itself.”

While the High Court was incorrect in finding the HSE was liable for the negligent acts of laboratories in Ms Morrissey’s case, the HSE did have a non-delegable duty in respects of patients availing of Cervical Check.He would dismiss that part of the HSE's appeal which suggested it should not be fixed with any liability in respect of negligence established against the laboratories.

The five judge court’s decision in the case of Limerick woman Ruth Morrissey, who is terminally ill with cancer, will impact on other cervical cancer cases and the work of the Cervical Check tribunal.

The HSE and two Irish based laboratories - Quest Diagnostics Ireland Ltd and Medlab Pathology Ltd - appealed a July 2019 judgment by the High Court’s Mr Justice Kevin Cross awarding €2.1m to Limerick woman Ruth Morrissey and her husband Paul over misreading of Ms Morrissey’s cervical smear slides.

The government had guaranteed, irrespective of the outcome, the couple will retain the entire damages, some €2m of which is against the labs, plus their legal costs.

In their appeals, the appellants’ particular concern was about the High Court finding that screeners should have "absolute confidence" that a sample is adequate and there is no abnormality before reporting it as negative.

The core issues included what standard of care should apply in cytoscreening and whether the HSE has liability for acts and omissions of cytoscreeners.

Ms Morrissey was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014 and her case concerned smears taken under the CervicalCheck screening programme in 2009 and 2012.

She was not told until May 2018 that a 2014 review showed two smears were reported incorrectly.

Online Editors