Lawyers Cut Through Complexity to Achieve Good Outcome for Disabled Boy


Some clinical negligence claims raise issues so complex that even the most eminent medical experts struggle to disentangle them. As a case involving a disabled seven-year-old boy showed, however, lawyers have a way of cutting through the morass of conflicting evidence and achieving good outcomes for their clients.

The boy was delivered at 33 weeks’ gestation. As a result of damage to his brain, he suffers from asymmetric cerebral palsy. His mobility and dexterity are impaired, with his right side more seriously affected than his left. His visual, feeding and cognitive abilities are also compromised.

The cause of his prematurity was his mother’s pre-eclampsia, a condition involving high blood pressure which can lead to a lack of oxygen reaching the foetus. His legal team alleged that brain damage occurred progressively during the last few days of his mother’s pregnancy. However, his case was complicated by evidence that the damage might have been caused by an apparently unconnected intraventricular haemorrhage.

Proceedings were launched against the NHS trust that ran the hospital where he was born, alleging that his mother received an unacceptable level of ante-natal care. It was contended that she should have been advised to take aspirin and that foetal growth should have been serially monitored after the 19th week of pregnancy. It was also alleged that she should have been admitted when she telephoned the hospital five days prior to going into labour, complaining of swollen legs.

The trust apologised unreservedly after admitting certain shortcomings in ante-natal care. In disputing liability, however, it denied that any of them caused or contributed to the boy’s injuries. It presented expert medical evidence that the haemorrhage happened post-delivery and would have occurred in any event.

The boy’s legal team nevertheless succeeded in bypassing the need for a high-risk and costly trial by negotiating a settlement whereby the trust agreed to pay 80 per cent of the full value of his claim. In approving the settlement, the High Court found that it was a sensible compromise that represented a big step forward for him and his family. The amount of his compensation, which was likely to run at least into seven figures, would be assessed at a further hearing if not agreed.

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