A mother was awarded nearly £25,000 for psychiatric injuries, prolonged bereavement and counselling after the death of her newborn child from birth complications, for which a NHS trust only admitted negligence three years later.
The baby had suffered multiple brain damage and further complications caused by low oxygen during birth, which might have been avoided if the hospital had carried out the delivery by caesarean section. Consequently, the infant could only survive on life support, which was withdrawn the day after birth as the prospects for the child were judged to be “hopeless”.
At court it was heard that a coroner's inquest did not take place until two years after the baby’s death and the NHS trust only admitted liability after three years.
During this time, the mother claimed she had suffered a “pathological grief disorder”, aggravated by the effects of trauma and guilt as she continued to be affected by recurrent recollections of the events. Medical experts agreed that the mother suffered from the symptoms of an ‘adjustment disorder’, including sleeping difficulties, loss of concentration and anxiety, for which counselling sessions and other non-medical therapies had been received.
Continued to be affected in a negative way
The court was to decide if the mother was firstly, entitled to damages for psychiatric injury she had suffered through the death of her child and the prolonged investigation into that death. Secondly, whether the mother was entitled to recover the costs of the counselling sessions and other non-medical therapies that she had completed, and finally, the cost of the wake following the child’s death.
The court held that the mother had continued to be affected in a negative way by her experiences and had suffered a psychiatric injury, which fell within the clinical definition of “moderately severe”. It was also found that it was “reasonable and proportionate” to claim recovery of costs for non-medical therapies as the mother had undoubtedly obtained “real and positive” benefit from the counselling she received.
The mother was also entitled to bereavement damages (under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976) and able to recover the cost of her child’s funeral expenses. However, the cost of the wake was not a recoverable expense under section 3(1) of the Act.