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Stillbirth Due to Negligence: Bringing a Claim for Compensation

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Midwives

A stillbirth is a tragic and traumatising experience for the mother of the baby and her immediate family. They occur more frequently than people think, with a rate of around 3.3 per 1000 births in Ireland, equating to around 230 deaths per year. Whilst most stillbirths are caused by health issues that are not the fault of medical professionals, there are certain scenarios where medical negligence can be attributed as the cause of death. If you or your partner have experienced the devastation of losing a child to stillbirth, you may be wondering if you can bring a claim for compensation against the healthcare provider that you deem to be responsible.

Outlined below are some answers to common questions on this difficult topic together with advice on bringing a claim and the compensation you may be entitled to.

What are the most common causes of stillbirths?

There are many causes of stillbirths that are not related to the standard of the care received by the mother. For example, stillbirths can be caused by smoking, alcohol consumption, use of recreational drugs, malnourishment, obesity, pregnancies in women over the age of 35, pre-existing health conditions, or multiple births (twins, triplets or more). In these sorts of scenarios, it may be very difficult to win your claim, even if you believe sub-standard care was the biggest contributing factor to the death of your child.

There are, however, some cases where the cause of the stillbirth can be attributed directly to medical negligence. Some examples of this include failure to recognise and respond to warning signs in a timely manner, failing to accurately diagnose conditions leading up to the birth, missed infections in the mother or child during pregnancy, anaesthetic or surgical errors during labour and delivery, or errors whist performing a caesarean section.

How can you prove that a stillbirth was caused by medical negligence?

It can be very difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a stillbirth was caused due to negligent medical care. The injured party or their representative will need to demonstrate how substandard care directly led to the child’s death, for example, by documenting how missed check-ups contributed to it, examining the medical notes from antenatal appointments and care, exploring mistakes that were made during labour or delivery, bringing in independent expert witnesses to assess any acts of omission on the part of healthcare professionals and confirm if they believe the death was caused due to negligence. Midwives, obstetricians, and gynaecologists are examples of expert independent witnesses that may be called on in a stillbirth medical negligence case.

What are general damages in stillbirth negligence cases?

General damages refer to the compensation awarded for non-financial losses such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and ability to function following the injury. General damages are awarded to offer parents recompense for the hurt they have suffered due to the stillbirth. For example, in cases where the negligent actions of a professional caused the mother physical or emotional harm during the birthing process, general damages can compensate them for their experience. The amount of compensation awarded depends on the severity and impact of the physical and psychological injury to the mother and her immediate family.

What are special damages in stillbirth cases?

Special damages are a form of financial compensation paid to claimants if successful in the pursuit of their medical negligence claim. In stillbirth cases, special damages may cover loss of earnings, travel and care costs, as well as other monetary losses associated with the stillbirth. They can also include reimbursement of expenses associated with funeral costs. Receiving special damages can go some way to helping parents at such a difficult time and ensure that they are not left in further financial difficulty due to the medical negligence related to the stillbirth.

When can I make a stillbirth compensation claim in Ireland?

The first stage to bringing a compensation claim for a stillbirth is in understanding if you meet the legal criteria to do so. Contacting and discussing your case with a qualified medical negligence solicitor will help you to ascertain if you have a feasible case. In Ireland, there are also time limits on bringing your case, which is two years from the date of knowledge of your injury. As such, if you believe the stillbirth of your child was caused by negligence, it is vital that you contact a solicitor as soon as possible to discuss your options.

Bringing a stillbirth compensation case

If you or your partner suffered a stillbirth and you believe it was due to medical negligence, then you may be able to bring a claim for compensation. You will need to speak to a solicitor as soon as possible, as there are time limits for bringing these types of cases. To win your case, you will need to prove that the healthcare professional in question breached their duty of care, and this led directly to the stillbirth. Once liability has been established, it may be possible to forecast an estimate of the damages you might be entitled to. General damages are an award for the physical and psychological pain caused by the stillbirth. Special damages are an award for any financial losses incurred due to the stillbirth. This could include compensation for loss of earnings, or the costs associated to arranging the funeral for the child. Whilst no amount of money can truly compensate for the loss of a child, it will at least ease the burden of any financial pressures you experienced throughout your traumatic ordeal. Call us on 1800 390 555 and an experienced member of staff will discuss your situation and potential next steps. You can also email on info@mccarthy.ie and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is a seasoned solicitor with almost 20 years of experience, specialises in personal injury and medical negligence claims, focusing particularly on high-value compensation cases. His extensive litigation experience spans Circuit Court, High Court and Supreme Court levels. John's practice involves a diverse range of cases, from personal injury and wrongful death to property damage, defective products, professional negligence and judicial reviews.

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