A record €15 million damages payment has been awarded to a 15-year-old boy whose autism is said to have been due to meningitis shortly after his birth.
The boy, whose name cannot be identified for legal reasons, sued Coombe Women’s Hospital in Dublin through his mother.
His lead attorney, Dr. John O’Mahony, said the hospital failed to act on warning signs that the baby was seriously ill with an infection, despite his mother alerting midwives to his growing concerns.
The untreated infection was said to have led to meningitis and severe permanent brain damage that the boy’s legal team said caused him to have grade three autism, a severe learning disability, and motor and coordination difficulties.
As part of the settlement, the hospital issued an apology, signed by Professor Michael O’Connell.
He wrote: ‘As Director of Coombe University Hospital for Women and Children and on behalf of the staff, I offer my sincerest apologies for the failure of care that caused injury to [the plaintiff].
“We at the hospital understand, and sincerely regret, that our failures in [the plaintiff’s] have had life-long consequences not only for [the plaintiff]but also for [the plaintiff’s] parents, guardians and relatives.’
Judge Paul Coffey approved the settlement, saying: “This is truly a sad and tragic case, arising out of circumstances that should never have occurred. It is very clear from what has been pointed out to the court that there should have been an earlier intervention.
He said he believed the settlement, the largest ever recorded in an autism case, was “fair and reasonable in all the circumstances.”
Dr. O’Mahony said the boy, who was his mother’s fifth child, was born in good condition in the early morning hours of February 20, 2007.
However, it was said that she had contracted an infection from her mother during childbirth. She had a cough and a high fever. Dr. O’Mahony said the baby started showing symptoms of that infection later that day and the next day.
He said it was essential that antibiotics be given intravenously to a baby in such circumstances as soon as possible, but this was not done.
When the boy was just over 13 hours old, his mother asked for him to be evaluated, as she was worried about him. At that time it was recorded that he had been grunting and had nasal flaring, was eating less, and had a racing heart.
Dr. O’Mahony said that these were classic signs of an infection, but despite this, no doctor evaluated the baby.
When the baby was 39 hours old, by which time he had shown signs of infection for 24 hours, the court heard that his mother took him to the hospital nursery saying he was “not well”.
She said that she had not had a bowel movement and that she was not crying. The baby was feeding very little, had significant jaundice and a fever.
Dr. O’Mahony said that after blood tests, the baby was given a course of antibiotics when he was 47 hours old.
An additional CT scan showed features consistent with meningitis.
The case was brought on behalf of the plaintiff that, due to negligence on the part of the hospital staff, there was a delay in recognizing signs of infection, a delay in diagnosing his infection, and a delay in starting antibiotics.
The infection was said to have led to meningitis, severe permanent brain damage and autism. It was also claimed that the infection caused severe hearing loss on the left side.
The child was described as minimally verbal and requiring a lot of help with many activities of daily living. He attends a school for children with special needs and it is not expected that he will be able to earn a living in the future.
Dr. O’Mahony told the court that if the boy had been given the appropriate intravenous antibiotics when he was 16 hours old, he would never have developed meningitis.
Alternatively, if he had been given the antibiotics when he was 40 hours old, it would have stopped the infection from developing and made a material difference to the outcome of events.