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11 November 2013

UK: Mother of disabled girl sues for compensation

The mother of a girl who died at the age of 11 after a life in ‘almost constant pain’ is suing for compensation, claiming doctors had failed to warn her of the disability.

Joanne Chinnock says she ‘didn’t want a damaged child’ and would have terminated her pregnancy if she had been told her baby had a one-in-13 chance of being seriously abnormal, the Daily Mail reports.

Her daughter Bethany Chinnock-Schumann had an extremely rare chromosomal disorder which left her nearly blind and in ‘almost constant pain’. She died in 2009, but Miss Chinnock and her partner Paul Schumann told a court they would ‘almost certainly’ have asked for an abortion if they had been fully informed of the risks.

They have now made a claim for £500,000 to compensate them for the damage done to their lives and their careers – and to make up for the cost of raising their daughter.

Giving evidence Miss Chinnock, from Somerset, told the High Court that her life had changed from the minute Bethany was born. She said: ‘She was in constant pain, screaming and crying. Our life stopped to look after her. I did nothing else but look after her. We had to catheterise her and feed her and give her medication day and night.

‘She was constantly being sick, so would need to be changed. A vast amount of her life was spent in hospital. Lots of times she was incubated, in intensive care. We saw the country by hospital – Alder Hey, Great Ormond Street, Cardiff. My whole focus while Bethany was alive was to look after her.’

Miss Chinnock and her partner were both social workers who were used to working with disabled people. In 2001 they tried to sue Liverpool Women’s Hospital NHS Trust for ‘wrongful birth’. However after a meeting that year with a group of experts, who said they thought the claim was unlikely to succeed, their legal team told them that they should abandon the case.

Bethany’s parents, both 45, are no longer together – but they are suing law firm Veale Wasbrough and a barrister called Karen Rea for alleged professional negligence, the Daily Mail reports. Their new counsel Michael Redfern QC said the couple had indicated to hospital staff that they would have no hesitation in going through with an abortion if there was a risk of serious disability.

At 11 weeks pregnant, Miss Chinnock had a routine nuchal translucency scan, which tests for chromosomal conditions. She was told there was increased fluid under the baby’s skin, at the back of her neck, but that it was a ‘soft marker’ for possible problems. However the parents were not told that when cross-referenced with other factors, the results actually showed a one-in-13 risk of the rare chromosomal abnormality, trisomy, he said. Doctors also failed to carry out amniocentesis and cardiocentesis tests when she was 15 and 20 weeks pregnant, which would have flagged up the condition.

Mr Redfern claimed that barrister Karen Rea and solicitor Jan Markland had taken ‘their eyes off the ball’ when handling the case. He said the lawyers ignored the fact that important tests had not been carried out. He also said they had ignored the parents’ determination not to have a disabled child when they told them to abandon the case. This meant they had missed their chance of receiving compensation from the NHS for the damage to their careers, the cost of looking after a severely disabled child and the emotional harm to Miss Chinnock, the court heard.

Mr Redfern added: ‘We say it is indefensible that she did not get information, advice, or further testing in the form of amniocentesis or cardiocentesis. ‘We would invite a finding of fact that Joanne Chinnock made it plain to the doctors and the ancillary staff that she didn’t want a damaged child. If there was a risk that there was going to be an abnormality then, dependent on the level of that risk, she would have terminated. If there was a confirmation through scanning, then she would most certainly have terminated the pregnancy. We say that, in so far as the claim against the hospital is concerned, nothing could be clearer.’

He added: ‘In those circumstances, we could not get a more compelling case where there was a breach of duty.’

Denying negligence, solicitors from Veale Wasbrough insisted that the experts had been given all the facts on which to base their opinion on whether the claim had a chance of success. The firm are arguing that the parents’ claim against them was launched too late. They have also said that Mr Schumann was not one of their clients, and that the lawyers did not owe him a duty of care.

The judge, Mr Justice Dingemans, has decided to reserve his judgment until a later date.

‘Wrongful birth’ claims are made on the grounds that a hospital has failed to discover abnormalities in good time, depriving parents of the chance to consider having an abortion, the Daily Mail reports. In the past, parents of other disabled children have managed to successfully argue that medical negligence denied them an opportunity to terminate the pregnancy before the 24-week legal limit.

‘Wrongful birth’ claims have cost the NHS around £54million over the past five years.

Mother who wants £500,000 because doctors didn’t say her baby might be disabled: We would have aborted her, insist parents of girl who lived to 11. Daily Mail, 11 November 2013