Background

In mid-April 2010, the mother suffered from a severe attack of gastroenteritis. She was required to attend Wagga Wagga Base Hospital every day for a period of three weeks. Daily CTG monitoring of her baby was carried out and an ultrasound was performed every second day. On 14 May 2010, she underwent a series of tests, including another ultrasound. A doctor told her she was fine and could go. However, that advice was contradicted by a midwife and the mother observed there to be a dispute between them that continued throughout the morning. Ultimately, at approximately 4.30 pm she was allowed to go home.

The mother returned to the hospital the following morning. A CTG trace was taken. She was told to go and get her things and that a Caesarean section would be scheduled for that afternoon. It could not be done straight away. The mother returned later that afternoon. An intravenous line was inserted at about 2.30 pm. A hospital staff member looked at the CTG and suddenly everything became urgent. The mother was taken to theatre and required a general anaesthetic.

Upon waking up after the delivery, she was in severe pain and was told by a doctor who she had never previously met, “I’m really sorry but the baby didn’t make it”.

The mother was shocked, cried uncontrollably for days and became angry and depressed. She also descended into alcoholism and developed severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder related to her baby’s death.

Court proceedings

The mother brought proceedings against the hospital alleging that it failed to properly monitor her labour or to manage her antenatal period and delivery with the result that her unborn child died soon after birth and in circumstances that could and should have been avoided by an earlier Caesarean intervention.

The hospital admitted liability.

The mother and her husband gave evidence. It was not disputed that the mother was seriously unwell. The cause of her condition was also not in question. The only issues were prognosis, the amenability of her condition to treatment and assessment of damages.

The court found that the mother was seriously ill and that her psychiatric condition rendered her disabled on an ongoing and unrelenting basis and was likely to continue for the whole of her life, with little prospect of improvement.

The mother was awarded damages in the total sum of $1,785,498, which included in excess of $350,000 for non-economic loss.

To read the decision in McManus v Murrumbidgee Local Area Health Network [2016] NSWSC 1347, click here.