Friday 23 August 2019

Ruth Morrissey wins landmark High Court case and is awarded €2.1 million over alleged misreading of smear tests

'I want to spend whatever quality time I’ve left with my daughter'

Terminal diagnosis: Ruth Morrissey sued over alleged misreadings of her CervicalCheck slides. Photo: Collins Courts
Terminal diagnosis: Ruth Morrissey sued over alleged misreadings of her CervicalCheck slides. Photo: Collins Courts
Court action: Limerick mother Ruth Morrissey. Photo: Collins Courts
Ruth Morrissey

Tim Healy

TERMINALLY ill Ruth Morrissey and her husband who sued over her CervicalCheck smear tests were awarded a total of €2.16 million by the High Court in a landmark action.

Mr Justice Kevin Cross said the Limerick woman's life had been ruined.

Some €1.4m of the award was to her husband Paul mainly comprising the loss of his wife's future income and care of their daughter Libby. The total award to Ms Morrissey was €757,508.

She won her case against  the HSE and two US laboratories  in relation to the testing of her cervical smear slides in 2009 and 2012 in what was the first fully contested action relating to the CervicalCheck controversy.

Court action: Limerick mother Ruth Morrissey. Photo: Collins Courts
Court action: Limerick mother Ruth Morrissey. Photo: Collins Courts

Outside court Ms Morrissey, supported by her husband and flanked by their solicitor Cian O'Carroll, said she wanted to spend whatever quality time she has left with her daughter Libby.

"What can I say I did not think I would be in this position because our Taoiseach told us none of us would have to go through this, but unfortunately I am the one who had to do it.

"I hope that's a positive thing, so the women who are left, they don’t need to do this and fight for their right to have a good life of what they've left".

She also encouraged women to continue getting smear tests "even though it failed me." She also told young women to avail of the HPV vaccine, which protects against cervical cancer, as "this is a cancer you do not want."

Mr Justice Cross ruled the HSE is entitled to an indemnity against the laboratories in respect of the entirety of the claim except for a €10,000 award relating to the the fact that Ms Morrissey was not informed of an audit review of her smear tests.

He also ruled Ms Morrissey must fail in the allegation of negligence against the HSE in relation to her care after her treatment in 2014.

Finding against US laboratory Quest Diagnostics, the judge said a reasonably competent screener at the relevant time should not have failed to see what was on Ms Morrissey's 2009 slide.

The cells on the slide, as per the evidence of consultant cytopathologist Dr Michael McKenna, had clear peculiarities which showed themselves as being other than normal and this ought to have been seen by a competent screener, he said.

"I believe the American screeners were utilising their professional skill and judgment and recording what they believed as a matter of probability was the case but that they ought not to have treated the slide as negative given the abnormalities as identified by Dr McKenna," the judge said.

Referring to the 2012 smear test by the MedLab laboratory,the judge said that though it contained abnormal and non negative cells, the nature of these cells was such that the failure to record them as abnormal was not a breach of duty of care.

However, MedlLab was negligent in failing to have the slide properly tested for adequacy.

The judge said had Ms Morrissey's slide been properly analysed in 2009, or had the slide in 2012 been deemed inadequate, and had she had been reviewed within one to three months,then as a matter of probability she would have been re tested, he said. 

It was also  a matter of probability that those slides would have been abnormal and  she would have been sent for a colposcopy. She would then have been treated using a non invasive procedure and would never have contracted  cancer in 2014.

He said she would have been spared the pain and distress of what followed and in particular her cancer would not have recurred.

The Morrisseys, of Monaleen, Co Limerick had sued the HSE and two US laboratories, Quest Diagnostics Ireland and Medlab Pathology both with offices in Dublin.

It was claimed there was an alleged failure to correctly report her smear samples taken in 2009 and 2012 and her cancer spread unidentified, unmonitored and untreated until she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in June 2014.

A spokesperson for MedLab said it welcomes today’s judgment that our laboratory was not negligent in its review and interpretation of Ms Morrissey’s 2012 slide.

“However, we are surprised and disappointed with the finding there was insufficient cellular material on the slide to meet the minimum cell threshold of 5,000 cells.

"This is contrary to findings of a retrospective detailed actual cell count where it was proven there was in excess of 35,000 cells present on the slide. This is over seven times the required volume of cells to deem a cervical sample as adequate.

“As such, the company intends on reviewing the judgement in full with a view to appeal.”

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