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Parents Criticise State Claims Agency on Handling of Daughter’s Court Case

The parents of a girl who was born with severe disabilities due to medical negligence have criticised the State Claims Agency for the insensitive manner in which they handled their daughter’s case.

In April 2005, Alex Butler was born at the Waterford Regional Hospital. Due to an avoidable 10 minute delay in her birth, she was born “blue and lifeless”. The doctor who was substituting for Alex’s mother’s regular obstetrician had failed to diagnose that there were complications in Alex’s birth and signs of foetal distress. As a result, Alex was starved of oxygen in the womb.

Her brain sustained severe and irreversible damage due to being deprived of oxygen. In spite of her injuries, Alex is described as possessing a “bright personality with a huge intelligence”. In addition to her brain damage, she is also tetraplegic and her mobility is dependant upon a wheelchair. She will need constant care and attention for the rest of her life. 

Her parents sought the advice of a solicitor to claim compensation for their daughter’s birth injuries.Acting on behalf of her daughter, Sonya Butler made a claim for Alex’s birth injuries against the Health Service Executive and Waterford Regional Hospital. The HSE acknowledged liability for Alex’s injuries, stating that the unnecessary delay in her birth was the cause of her injuries. Their legal representatives negotiated with the family to organise an interim settlement of compensation in 2013.  It was hoped that  structured settlement of periodic payments would be introduced by the government shortly after the interim settlement was made.

The case was adjourned for two years for such structured periodic payments to be created. However, the government has failed to create the required legislation for such a scheme. Therefore, a lump sum needed to be negotiated.  As the case involved a minor, it was brought to the High Court, where their case was overseen by Mr Justice Anthony Barr. 

An apology was read to the Butler family by a spokesperson representing Waterford Regional Hospital. As the hearing proceeded, the judge heard that the parties could not agree as to how much compensation Alex was entitled to due to her severity of disabilities, and her requirement of constant care and medical attention. 

The parties continued to negotiate the settlement for eighteen days after the initial hearing. A €9 million settlement of compensation was eventually agreed upon. The settlement was approved by Judge Barr in the High Court on Alex’s behalf. The judge commented that the settlement was both reasonable and fair. 

Speaking to the press after the hearing, Alex’s parents expressed their disdain with how the case was handled. Sonya criticising the State Claims Agency when speaking with reporters after the announcement of the settlement: “They fought tooth and nail. They basically want Alex to have an existence, not a life. They want her to scrape by with the bare minimum rather than her having the life that she should have had.”

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