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Doctor must pay €3.7m for girl's birth injuries

A CONSULTANT obstetrician is liable for around €3.75m damages awarded to a severely disabled teenage girl over brain injuries suffered during her hospital birth, the High Court ruled.

Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill yesterday found the severe injuries suffered by Nicole Hassett were caused by the "simply inexplicable" delay by Dr Raymond Howard in not delivering the child by 12.30am on November 15, 1997, at St Joseph's Maternity Hospital, Clonmel, Co Tipperary.

The doctor had denied any delay.

The child was delivered at 1am and the great bulk of her injuries probably arose in the half hour up to then, the judge found.

A trace of the infant's heartbeat up to 11.42pm appeared to show "a picture of normality" and it seemed she was relatively undamaged until at least 12.30am but suffered the great bulk of the brain damage due to being left in the rigours of intense labour until 1am, he said.

Dr Howard was in the hospital from 12.15am that morning and knew what he had to do and where he had to be to do it, the judge said.

There was "absolutely no apparent reason" why Dr Howard was not in theatre, ready to proceed, from 12.20am onwards.

His failure in that regard breached his duty of care to the child and this breach was the proximate cause of the injuries.

In those circumstances, the judge ruled the HSE was entitled to be indemnified by Dr Howard for a previously agreed settlement award of €3.75m to the child.


Ms Hassett, Cashel Road, Clonmel, who has cerebral palsy and is severely disabled, brought proceedings through her mother, Orla, alleging negligence in the circumstances of her birth.

The case was against the South Eastern Health Board, now the HSE, with Dr Howard, the UK-based Medical Defence Union (MDU) and MDU Services Ltd as third parties.

In a settlement approved in 2005, Nicole was awarded €3.75m and costs.

The HSE had claimed an indemnity or contribution from MDU member Dr Howard who joined the MDU to the proceedings, claiming indemnity or contribution from it.

The MDU refused to provide an indemnity but Dr Howard successfully challenged that refusal in High Court proceedings.

In the claim by Ms Hassett against Dr Howard, it was alleged he delayed inexcusably in delivering the child as a consequence of which she suffered severe brain damage.

Dr Howard was unable to recall the events of the night but denied any untoward delay in effecting delivery.

He also argued, even if the child was delivered by 12.30am, it would have made no difference to the child's injuries as, he claimed, these were caused earlier in the labour, up to four hours before delivery.

Irish Independent