A tragic stillbirth that could have been avoided
Every year, more than 3,500 mothers experience a stillbirth, a terrible tragedy for any family to bear. But discovering that the loss of their child was avoidable makes it even more heartbreaking for parents and their loved ones. In this sad case, we were instructed in a clinical negligence claim arising from the stillbirth of our client’s son in September 2017. Unfortunately, the stillbirth occurred in June 2014, and as there is a statutory limit of three years to start a compensation claim for stillbirth negligence, on the face of it the time limit had expired.
The argument we put forward
We argued that shock and grief, coupled with the reassurances provided by the hospital’s staff in various meetings, led our client to believe that no act or omission on the part of their staff had occurred that would or could have altered the outcome for her son. However, concerns raised by her mother resulted in our client making an application for copies of the hospital records. This culminated in a Letter of Complaint being sent in March 2017.
It was not until our client saw a Serious Incident Investigation report in September 2017 that she had any knowledge of a possible act or omission on the part of the staff that may have contributed to her son’s stillbirth. We immediately sent off a Letter of Notification followed by a Letter of Claim.
Allegations of negligence
This was our client’s second child, the first having been born by caesarean section due to foetal distress and other problems. Our client was over 41 weeks pregnant when her son was delivered via forceps in June 2014. There were no signs of life on delivery. Resuscitation measures were undertaken but tragically her son did not respond.
The essence of our case was a failure to expedite delivery. The Serious Incident Investigation Report clearly identified the following failings in care: –
- Lack of clear directions for staff regarding the duration of foetal monitoring twice weekly
- Our client was not seen by an obstetrician between 37 and 40 weeks of her pregnancy
- There was no foetal surveillance via Cardiotocography (CTG) for a period of 13 days
- There was a lack of continuity of care; our client saw the Obstetric Locum Registrar and not the Consultant as per the Trust’s policy
- There was no evidence of a care plan or evidence of a consultation with the Birth Choices Consultant
- Recordings of elevation in her blood pressure did not prompt expected management or obstetric referral
- There was a lack of awareness of “the whole clinical picture”
- There was a failure to consider the need for senior obstetric input, or follow their own policy in
relation to Obstetric Consultant involvement in timing and mode of delivery
The Trust’s response
The Trust accepted our arguments regarding limitation, and agreed not to argue that the claim had not been brought in the appropriate period. It went on to admit that the management plan should have been arranged, and our client should have been seen by a consultant at 37 weeks. It also admitted that, but for the sub-standard care, there would have been an earlier birth, and the stillbirth could have been avoided.
Valuing and settling the claim
We obtained psychiatric evidence, to show the impact the Trust’s negligence had on our client. We drafted a Schedule of Losses, including funeral expenses, loss of earnings for both her and her husband, and purchases made in advance of the birth. We sent the Trust our expert evidence and the Schedule of Loss, which totalled just under £50,000, and successfully negotiated a settlement of £40,000 in October 2018.
Many Medical Negligence solicitors are understandably reluctant to take on cases where the limitation period is about to, or as in this case, has expired. At Attwaters Jameson Hill we will always strive to help our clients, even if they approach us at a late stage. We appreciate there can often be good reasons why they don’t contact us shortly after the negligent act has taken place. In this case it would have been easy to advise the client that their claim was too late, but we saw it had good prospects of success and wanted to ensure that the mother was compensated for the terrible loss she had suffered.