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Adelaide boy awarded $9.5m compo for oxygen deprivation after birth

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A 15-year-old Adelaide boy with cerebral palsy and autism has been awarded $9.5 million in compensation for being deprived of oxygen for 27 minutes immediately after his birth at the Women’s & Children’s Hospital.

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The hefty payment sum was reached by agreement, after the boy’s mother lodged a medical negligence claim for damages in the South Australian Supreme Court against the State Government, to cover the cost of the 24-hour care her son will need for the rest of his life.

InDaily has chosen not to identify the family to protect their privacy.

Their lawyer, DBH Lawyers partner Peter Jackson, said the case highlighted an “unfortunate incident that should never have happened at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital”.

“After a prolonged litigation the family are grateful that the matter has resolved for an amount of money that will support their son for the rest of his life,” he told InDaily.

The boy was born early at 29 weeks and 3 days gestation by caesarean section at the WCH after the mother noticed a decrease in the baby’s movement and doctors determined the baby was at “severe risk of intrauterine fetal death”.

In claim documents lodged with the court, the family explains the boy gave a “weak cry” when born and was not taking spontaneous breaths, so hospital staff used resuscitation equipment to attempt to give him oxygen.

But instead, the baby was deprived of oxygen for a total of 27 minutes due to a series of errors admitted by the hospital involving “incorrectly assembled” resuscitation equipment and settings that were “too low”.

“As a direct result of the negligence of the defendant, the plaintiff has suffered injury, loss and damage,” the boy’s claim says.

It says the negligence resulted in a lack of oxygen to the brain causing “cerebral palsy of all limbs associated with speech delay, autism, intellectual impairment, PEG feeds and asthma”.

“The general nature of the resulting disabilities include an overall impairment and restriction of bodily and mental functioning…” the claim says.

“The plaintiff has suffered pain; loss of enjoyment of amenities of life; impairment of his ability to study; intellectual and cognitive impairment; impairment of his earning capacity; impairment of his ability to carry out domestic and household duties and to participate in social and recreational activities.”

He is unlikely to work “other than in a sheltered workshop giving rise to a loss of income and working capacity”.

The family said compensation was needed for future care, supervision, tutelage, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, vocational training, financial oversight, case management, counselling and monitoring; special housing, household maintenance, travel costs and specialised equipment including a wheelchair.

The claim says the hospital “owed a duty of care to provide reasonable care, skill and attention in respect of medical advice, care and treatment provided to the plaintiff”.

“The hospital was vicariously liable for the acts or omissions of its servants, employees and agents and owed a non delegable duty of care to the plaintiff,” it says.

In defence documents lodged with the court, the government admitted that hospital records showed “the resuscitation bag was incorrectly assembled and that the neopuff settings were too low”.

The records showed the valve of the disposable Laerdal resuscitation bag “may have been incorrectly assembled such that pressure could be generated in the self-inflating bag, but no flow possible through the patient end”.

Despite this, the government argued in its defence that “any injury, loss or damage suffered by the plaintiff was not a result of any breach of duty on the part of the defendant but, rather, is a result of his extreme prematurity”.

However, it agreed to pay the boy and his family $9.5 million in compensation, ending a three-year legal saga.

In a statement, SA Health said: “The State Government has reached agreement with (the mother) in the matter relating to her son.”

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