Sunday 22 July 2018

'I did it for my children' - Terminally ill Emma settles case against HSE and US laboratory for €7.5m

Emma Mhic Mhathuna, from Baile na nGall, Co. Kerry pictured speaking to the media on leaving the Four Courts - after the settlement of a High Court action, also in pic, her solicitor, Cian O Carroll. Photo: Collins Courts
Emma Mhic Mhathuna, from Baile na nGall, Co. Kerry pictured speaking to the media on leaving the Four Courts - after the settlement of a High Court action, also in pic, her solicitor, Cian O Carroll. Photo: Collins Courts

Eilish O'Regan and Tim Healy

MOTHER-OF-FIVE Emma Mhic Mhathúna, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016 having previously received two incorrect smear results, has secured a €7.5m settlement after taking legal action.

The terminally-ill Co Kerry woman, whose children range in age from two to 16 years, had sued the HSE and a US laboratory used by CervicalCheck.

The 37-year old woman was in court when it was told liability was admitted in the case by the HSE and US laboratory involved in the testing, Quest Diagnostics Incorporated.

Letters of apology from the HSE and Quest will also be sent to Ms Mhic Mhathúna the court was told.

Speaking afterwards, Ms Mhic Mhathúna said she was very proud to have achieved the settlement. "From the outset, I was determined to find justice for my children."

The €7.5million, she said, represents the amount of damage done to them.

Emma Mhic Mhathuna, from Baile na nGall, Co. Kerry pictured with her solicitor, Cian O Carroll outside the Four Courts - after the settlement of a High Court action. Photo: Collins Courts
Emma Mhic Mhathuna, from Baile na nGall, Co. Kerry pictured with her solicitor, Cian O Carroll outside the Four Courts - after the settlement of a High Court action. Photo: Collins Courts

"It was for them I did this," she said.

"I am not surprised it settled before it went to court.

"I am a very strong character and they realised what they were up against." she said.  

She said the admission of liability was important to her for all women.

"They apologised to me specifically and I was very happy with the fact that Quest Diagnostics apologised," she said.

She added: "It would make sense to check, check and re check the smear test rather than hand out the big cheque." 

She said her case demonstrated power of standing up for yourself.

She had worn a red dress to court, representing standards for women, and she did not want to appear a victim.

Earlier, her counsel Patrick Treacy SC told the court the admission of liability related to failing to disclose the findings of cervical cancer. Quest Diagnostics admitted misreading her two cervical smear slides in 2010 and 2013.

The settlement followed mediation talks which started last Sunday.

The court heard Ms Mhic Mhathúna wants all the money paid in to court for the benefit of her children.

Mr Treacy said the admission of liability from Quest related to the misreading of slides. He said Ms Mhic Mhathúna had a number of cervical smears in 2010, 2011 and 2013.  The three tests of 2010, 2011 and 2013 were incorrectly reported. The 2011 result, he said, was a false negative and the 2010 and 2013 slides were both misread and showed negative. 

The effect of the results on the 2010 and 2013 slides was that if read correctly Ms Mhic Mhathúna should have got a mandatory colposcopy.

She was under the mistaken belief she did not have cell changes.

Ms Mhic Mhathúna had another smear test on August 19, 2016 and a result was sent for a colposcopy examination and a biopsy and was subsequently diagnosed as having invasive cancer cells and she underwent treatment between October and December 2016.

In April and May this year Ms Mhic Mhathúna was advised she has suffered a recurrence of her cervical cancer and her prognosis is terminal.

Counsel said that it was not until a request was made during the preparation of the case that it was discovered about the 2010 result. He said Ms Mhic Mhathúna was a dedicated mother she was very happy all issues had been resolved and the matter could be brought to an end. He said her sole aim was to protect her five children.

Ms Mhic Mhathúna told the judge her children were very proud of "the astronomical figure" she had achieved in the settlement, but they were very clear nothing would replace their mother.

"I am glad it's over with, so I can enjoy my time with my children. We take it day by day," she said.

Ms Mhic Mhathúna of Baile na nGall, Co Kerry along with her daughter Natasha (15) and sons Seamus (11), Mario (10) Oisin (6) and Donnacha (2) had sued the defendants claiming she was owed a duty of care.

She claimed her cancer was allowed to develop and spread unidentified, unmonitored and untreated until she was diagnosed with cervical cancer around September 2016.

Her five children claimed they now face the premature and early demise of their mother and the consequent loss of all the nurture, care, opportunities and support which she would otherwise provide for them until they reach independent adulthood.

She further claimed that she was deprived of the opportunity of timely and effective investigation and management of her condition and she was deprived of the opportunity of treatment at a time when her disease was amenable to curative treatment.

She alleged her life expectancy has been caused to be significantly reduced and the failure to advise her in a timely manner of the results of the smear test reviews infringed her constitutional rights to bodily integrity and privacy. 

Mr Justice Kevin Cross approved the settlement.

Ms Mhic Mhathúna is one of the 209 women with cervical cancer who were found to have received incorrect smear tests during a clinical audit of past tests by the CervicalCheck screening programme after their cancer diagnoses.

The 37-year-old is among 162 of those who were only told about the incorrect tests after Limerick woman Vicky Phelan settled her court case against a US laboratory for €2.5 million.

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