Claim for Tetraplegic Birth Injuries Resolved after Delay in Court

The High Court in Ireland has approved the €9 million settlement of a claim for tetraplegic birth injuries after an unprecedented delay in reaching an agreement.

Alex Butler from East Dunmore in County Waterford was born “blue and lifeless” at the Waterford Regional Hospital in April 2005, after a locum doctor covering the vacation of her mother´s consultant obstetrician failed to act on complications with her delivery.

Alex´s birth was avoidably delayed by ten minutes and, due to being starved of oxygen in the womb, is severely brain damaged. Although Alex is described as having a “bright personality with a huge intelligence”, her tetraplegic birth injuries mean that she will need around the clock care for the rest of her life.

Sonya Butler – Alex´s mother – made a compensation claim for tetraplegic birth injuries against the Health Service Executive (HSE) – the equivalent in Ireland of the National Health Service. The HSE acknowledged liability for Alex´s avoidable brain damage and a €1.4 million interim payment of compensation was made in 2013 in lieu of a structured settlement system being introduced.

The 2013 case was adjourned for two years so that proposed legislation could be passed to enable a structured compensation payment system. As that legislation has not yet been presented to the Irish parliament, but with the necessary legislation not yet passed, the claim for tetraplegic birth injuries was heard at the High Court in Dublin by Mr Justice Anthony Barr.

The hearing commenced with a representative of Waterford Regional Hospital saying that the hospital “sincerely regrets the tragic consequences their failings have caused to both Alex and to her parents John and Sonya Butler”. Thereafter, the judge heard that there were still issues with the settlement and a series of witnesses were called protracting the hearing.

Negotiations continued for an unprecedented eighteen days until the agreement of a €9 million settlement was reached. Approving the settlement of Alex´s claim for tetraplegic birth injuries, Mr Justice Anthony Barr said the settlement was reasonable and sensible – but, outside the High Court, Alex´s parents said they were shocked that negotiations had taken so long.

Sonya Butler criticised the State Claims Agency´s approach to negotiations and told reporters “They fought tooth and nail. They basically want Alex to have an existence, not a life. They want her to scrape by with the bare minimum rather than her having the life that she should have had.” Sonya claimed that they only conceded to the parent´s demands because “their costs [for the protracted court case] were going to be astronomical”.

The State Claims Agency responded by issuing a statement “The State Claims Agency recognises that clinical negligence cases involve patients who have suffered enormous trauma and pain. The Agency is acutely conscious that it has a duty to act fairly, ethically and with compassion in all its dealings with these patients and their families.”