Deirdre Courtney, mother of Bríd Courtney who suffered brain damage due to negligence during her birth at Tralee General Hospital, spoke at a conference, jointly organised by the Rotunda Hospital and the State Claims Agency, entitled ‘The Human Cost – Cerebral Palsy Secondary to Birth Asphyxia in the Term Infant’ on 12th September 2013. Mrs. Courtney’s statement was reported in the Irish Times:
“If only they had held their hand up at the beginning,” said Deirdre Courtney of her and her husband Brendan’s eight-year battle for justice for their daughter Bríd.
Bríd suffered brain damage due to negligence at her birth at Tralee General Hospital in 2003. Last year, a settlement of €11 million was agreed by the HSE, without admission of liability. Deirdre thinks Bríd’s case could have been dealt with more quickly and at less expense.
“If they had put up their hand and said, ‘we really have made a blunder here, it was an accident’. I mean accidents happen. That’s life. What I say is stop defending the indefensible. Just enter into meaningful discussions at the earliest opportunity.”
Bríd suffered foetal distress in the latter stages of labour which went unnoticed by staff, said Deirdre. While after birth, frantic attempts were made to resuscitate her, she suffered brain damage and was ultimately diagnosed with dyskinetic athetoid cerebral palsy.
“She is really profoundly disabled,” says Deirdre. “She has impaired motor function, she can’t walk, and she’s wheelchair dependent. She can see, hear and vocalise but she can’t communicate using speech.”
Her condition means Bríd will require lifelong care. Deirdre says while she and her husband asked questions of the hospital, they didn’t get satisfactory answers from everyone.
“We were told that this can happen lots of babies at birth, that children can be born not breathing through no fault of anybody’s. That’s the line they were sticking to all the time.”
With four other children, “we were really under huge financial pressure. There was always the possibility that if we lost our case, we’d lose our home and our farm.”
Court proceedings started in 2006 and over the next four years, the family made countless trips to Dublin, England and Wales for Bríd to be seen by medical experts for both sides. “We were funding all of that ourselves,” says Deirdre. Her parents moved from Cork to the Courtneys home in Kerry to support the family.
In November 2010, a settlement was reached in which the HSE did not admit liability. The Courtneys received an interim payment of €2 million.
When expected legislation for periodic rather than a lump sum payment failed to materialise, the Courtneys were called back to court again in 2012.
“We actually had to go through the procedure of seeing every single expert all over again – so there was duplication of costs on our side and to the State. Bríd had seen all the same people two years earlier.”
The subsequent award of a further €9 million, achieved with the assistance of Ernest J. Cantillon Solicitors, means that Bríd, now aged 10, can be supported to reach her full potential.
“She’s bright, she’s happy, she’s full of fun, she interacts superbly with everyone she meets and she likes nothing better than beating the socks off the rest of us in a game of cards,” says her mother.
Having just started fourth class in mainstream school, Bríd is keeping well up with her peers. The award means her future care is assured.
It troubles the Courtneys that nobody was ever held to account for Bríd’s injuries, and that it took so long to get justice.
“If they admitted it at the earliest opportunity, if they apologised to the family and got on with it, that alone would relieve a huge financial burden on families.
Families could just get on with giving their child the appropriate care, knowing that help was at hand.”
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