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2020 and still no Statutory Obligation on Doctors and Hospitals to tell the Truth


Posted in [Blog Medical Negligence ] on Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

“I am happy that I can walk, talk, eat, sleep, dance”.

What a great philosophy in life and as  said  by my 7 year old client, Iarlaith O’Cinnéide, to reporters following the conclusion of his court case on the 6th December 2019.   On that date, Mr. Justice Cross ruled an interim settlement of just under €3.7m for Iarlaith in the next 5 years to pay for his care and therapies and to help him fulfil his not inconsiderable potential.  Indeed, Brendan O’Connor in the Sunday Independent  on 8th  December 2019, predicted that Iarlaith “who shone like a beacon of positivity integrity resilience and joy outside the Four Courts last Friday, who is a credit to his parents and himself and who feels like the antidote to our cynicism about everything right now, will be elected President”. I wouldn’t be at all surprised!

A mistake was made during Iarlaith’s mum’ labour.  There was a failure to recognise and act upon worrisome signs in the CTG recordings (a CTG machine records the foetal heart rate and the uterine contractions during pregnancy) in the hour or so prior to Iarlaith’s delivery.  Furthermore, there was a failure to recognise that the heart rate, being recorded for the 30 minutes or so prior to Iarlaith’s delivery, was the maternal heart rate and not Iarlaith’s.

These failures caused Iarlaith to suffer an acute profound (near total) episode of hypoxia (deprivation of oxygen) leading to a catastrophic brain injury and resulted in Iarlaith having Cerebral Palsy.

At the time, Iarlaith’s parents were told that what happened to Iarlaith was just one of those things, and that it happens in about every 6,000 babies when the baby just come out flat and has to be resuscitated.   An Act of God as it were.

We now know that what happened was not an Act of God.  Unfortunately, it took six years, and a lengthy Court case, for the HSE to admit liability    The family have never received an apology for an event that ruined all of their lives.

At the time that Iarlaith was born, April 2012, there was no statutory obligation for doctors and/or hospitals to tell patients when mistakes were made.    Almost 8 years on that remains the case.  Indeed, matters seem to have gone into somewhat of a reverse due to  the provisions governing voluntary open disclosure in the Civil Liability (Amendment) Act 2017  which came into effect on Saturday 23rd September 2018.   This legislation was designed to give legal protection for the information and apology made to a patient during Open Disclosure.  The apology cannot be used in litigation against the Provider.  Previously, if a disclosure was made it was admissible in subsequent litigation.   Now it is not. So the apology is now voluntary and protected.

We are still awaiting the enactment of the Patient Safety Bill. This Bill is proposing to bring in an obligation for mandatory disclosure in respect of certain serious incidents.   According to the House of the Oireachtas website, which was last updated on the 12th December 2019, the Bill is currently before Dáil Éireann, third stage.   In its present format, it provides that the apology and, indeed, the information given to the patient, does not constitute an admission of liability or fault and is not admissible in litigation.  That is not an apology. That is a fudge. Another one.

Finally, I think it is worth saying that in a climate where there is so much criticism of the present Courts System, it worked for Iarlaith.   He, through his parents, (eventually)  achieved justice.   He so deserved it.

Contact us at Cantillons Solicitors at +353 (0)21 -4275673 or info@cantillons.com if you would like more information.

* In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or proportion of any award or settlement.

Karen Kearney

Partner

Experience

In her twenty years as a practising solicitor, Karen has worked with a number of leading law firms in Limerick and Cork where she has acquired extensive experience in all areas of the law, with a particular expertise in medical negligence cases.

Karen has represented clients effectively in many forums including the District Court, Circuit Court, High Court, Employment Tribunals and Coroner’s Court. She has acted for, and advised, State Bodies in respect of all areas of the law to include childcare law; employment issues; food safety and health and safety issues.

Karen joined Cantillons Solicitors in November 2009 and works in the Medical Negligence Department practising clinical negligence litigation.  She is expertly assisted by Patricia Sisk and April Wiseman, Legal Assistants.

She is very proud to be a member of the medical negligence team which  has been involved in precedent-setting  cases since 1980 and which received the inaugural award of Litigation Team of the Year, National Irish Bank Law Awards in 2012.

Karen regularly attends international conferences in order to add to  her pool of her experts and ensure access to the world’s best. She is also regularly asked to speak at national and international conferences concerning medico-legal issues. She is a regular speaker at the annual Medical Law Conference; giving presentations on healthcare law, practice and procedure to employees in the healthcare section and fellow lawyers. This lecturing experience means that Karen has an excellent grasp of law in theory as well as in practice.

Karen has featured on national television and on local and national radio  in relation to this specialised area of medical negligence litigation.She has been commissioned to write opinion pieces on topical issues in the medical negligence area, published in national newspapers. Notably, she first highlighted in the Irish Examiner, the Minister for Health’s failure to introduce a statutory Duty of Candour-  a legal requirement for medical staff, nurses and management to tell patients and their families if a mistake has been made which adversely affects the patient’s health – despite the Minister’s promise to do so.

Karen also writes a weekly column in a local daily newspaper, the Evening Echo, addressing reader’s legal queries. This column  appears in Monday’s edition of the paper.

Karen has developed real expertise in her field and has shown great dedication in pursuing complex injury cases to settlement.

Karen gets referrals from patients nationwide. She represents her patients with determination and compassion.

Qualifications

  • BCL Honours 1992
  • Admitted to the Roll of Solicitors in Michaelmas 1996

Associations

  • Former Secretary of Limerick Bar Association
  • Former member of the Litigation Committee of the Law Society of Ireland
  • Member of the Medical Injuries Alliance
  • Member of Action Against Medical Accidents (AvMA)

Related Experts

Ernest J. Cantillon

Managing Partner

Karen Kearney

Partner

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