Tuesday 20 August 2019

Dying Ruth awarded €2.16m - but CervicalCheck labs to appeal

First fully contested action not over yet for terminally ill mum who faces further battles

Fighter: Ruth Morrissey and her husband Paul speaking to the media on leaving the Four Courts after a High Court judgment yesterday. Photo: Collins
Fighter: Ruth Morrissey and her husband Paul speaking to the media on leaving the Four Courts after a High Court judgment yesterday. Photo: Collins

Tim Healy, Eilish O'Regan and John Downing

Terminally ill Ruth Morrissey, who was awarded €2.16m in the High Court arising out of her CervicalCheck case, is facing a potential appeal by one of the laboratories involved.

MedLab Pathology in Dublin said it is reviewing the judgment with a view to an appeal.

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 awarded to Ms Morrissey was €757,508.

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

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

But she hit out at the Government and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar for failing to ensure that women like her wouldn't have to face the trauma of court.

"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," she said.

"I hope it is a positive thing for the women who are left that they see this and they fight for what is their right to have a good life for what they have left." She also encouraged women to continue getting smear tests "even though it failed me". She told young women to avail of the HPV vaccine, which protects against cervical cancer.

Later, campaigner Stephen Teap, whose wife Irene died of cervical cancer, hailed Ruth's "strength" and called on the Government to "step up".

"It didn't have to be this way and no person in this situation should have to fight for justice like Ruth did, delighted she got the result she got," he said. "Time for the Government to step up."

Speaking in Westmeath yesterday, Mr Varadkar said he was glad that Ms Morrissey has been "vindicated".

"I know a year ago I said that I didn't want any women to have to go to court, I still don't," he said. "We have an alternative to court and that is a tribunal. The judge has been appointed and the legislation is now being prepared and that means that women who want to take a case in relation to CervicalCheck will have an alternative and the tribunal will hear cases in private. The target is to have that legislation through before the summer recess."

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 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 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 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, MedLab 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.

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.

The HSE admitted it owed a duty of care in failing to advise her of the review of her tests. The laboratories denied all claims.

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

Irish Independent

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