Claim for Autism due to Medical Negligence Resolved at High Court

An eight-year-old child´s claim for autism due to medical negligence has been settled at the High Court with the approval of a €1.9 million settlement.

On 17th January 2008, Joe Keegan-Grant was born by emergency Caesarean Section at the Mount Carmel Hospital in Dublin. A pre-natal scan had revealed an arachnoid cyst at the base of Joe´s brain and doctors order the C-Section delivery to prevent any pressure being applied to the cyst during his birth.

Joe was discharged from hospital a few days later, seemingly in good health. Over the next few months Joe was assessed by public health nurses and paediatrician Dr Vladka Vilimkova but, despite concerns about Joe´s development, neither the public health nurses nor Dr Vilimkova recorded Joe´s rapidly-growing head circumference on a chart or exchanged information.

Only when the family moved to Creggs in County Roscommon did the family´s new GP express concerns about the Joe´s head circumference. Joe was referred to the Crumlin Hospital for a scan and, in October 2008, he was diagnosed with hydrocephalus – a condition that is a known possible consequence of an arachnoid cyst, and that can lead to developmental delay, behavioural problems and autism.

Joe made a claim for autism due to medical negligence through his mother, Patricia, alleging that both the public health nurses and Dr Vilimkova should have been aware of the possibility of hydrocephalus and exchanged the information they had gathered. Medical negligence was denied by the Health Service Executive (HSE), but an offer of settlement was made to the family without an admission of liability.

At the approval hearing at the High Court, Mr Justice Kevin Cross heard that, despite his autism, Joe was doing well at a mainstream school. The judge also heard that Joe would never be able to live an independent life or earn a living. Joe´s father told the judge: “we just want to ensure that we can look after him and offer him the best care and therapy and interventions that can bring him along.”

Joe´s barrister told Judge Cross that although there was evidence to support the claim for autism due to medical negligence, the HSE had experts that could dispute the link between the late diagnosis of hydrocephalus, developmental delay and autism. With there being the potential for doubt over causation, the court was asked to approve the settlement.

Judge Cross said it would be prudent in the circumstances for him to approve the settlement of Joe´s claim for autism due to medical negligence. The judge said there was a risk that, should the claim go to a full hearing, the HSE´s argument could be successful. The judge approved the compensation settlement and wished Joe and his parents all the best for the future before closing the hearing.