“Nobody should go through the same kind of experience and that was it.” A dad’s legal claim journey for his son, who has cerebral palsy due to a birth injury.
Rhian Parsons, Partner in the Clinical Negligence Team talks with her client about their journey, the challenges, and the positives of what he and his family have experienced from seeking a claim. The family have recently settled a clinical negligence claim on behalf of their son, who’s been diagnosed with cerebral palsy due to a birth injury.
How did you come to the decision to investigate a claim on behalf of your son?
Mr B: It was probably a delayed reaction initially, obviously, with all the trauma that happened. His injury was at birth. There was no indication of anything prior to that. It was very much in the final stages of labour. It all went drastically downhill very quickly in that final moment. There was a while of just getting used to the situation we’re in. The biggest thing, to my mind, was always just a gut feeling, also from my wife, that something wasn’t right around the whole experience.
We felt as though it just took a little bit of time for it to be acted upon. I have a succinct memory that it was only when the consultant came into the room that something was identified.
After realising that there may have been a fault in the care and delivery, Mum and Dad wanted to see how they could make a change so someone else didn’t have to go through this.
Mr B: We discussed when we went into the legal aspects of it, that our primary goal was just to try and stop anybody else going through the same kind of situation. Initially, it was never any sort of financial goal from our perspective. It was the experience we felt we had. Nobody should go through the same kind of experience and that was it.
Rhian: How did that make you feel in terms of considering the legal action against the NHS with your wife working within the system?
Mr B: I think that’s what always drove us, was asking, what has happened? and should have that had happened? And therefore, is it right somebody else goes through the same kind of experience? I think that helped with any doubts or feeling of conflict. It was about doing what’s right for patients and other people that may go through that experience.
Rhian: How did you go about finding a solicitor and did you find that process difficult at all?
Mr B: We were fortunate, because the line of work I was in, I worked with legal teams in the business so was able to pick their brains. Just from a general standpoint, you get solicitor directories in terms of specialists in clinical negligence so from my point of view, initially researching names was relatively straightforward. We had three or four that we knew to specialize in this field. We then just looked at more local firms from an ease point of view. It’s worth investigating.
I think the big thing that helped with all of that is my wife’s very, very organized and quite quick after it (the birth trauma) happen, she noted as much as she could remember. That way we always had something to refer back to, even in the early days of the initial conversations. It was difficult because obviously it is the last thing on your mind but recording and noting everything that didn’t seem right and comparing our experiences with one another helps in those initial exchanges to decide whether there was anything worth pursuing.
Rhian: Do you remember how you felt before and after the first meeting? I realise that was some time ago.
Mr B: At first, we went into it with “there is nothing to lose” stance. At the end of the day somebody will decide whether there is a case and what the outcome will be. We felt it was not right to just sit back and accept what happened. The fact that somebody was willing to listen was a big part of those initial conversations.
We got a sense, quite clearly and early on that it is not a quick process. The case has been going on for 13 years from start to finish. I think that’s one of the things you’ve got to be prepared for.
Rhian: How stressful did you find the investigation of the case itself?
Dad: It goes in fits and starts. Sometimes there is a lot happening, there is a lot coming out, a lot of reports to try and read, and then were periods where not a lot happened. In the early days, it was very much the challenge of recounting what happened when he was born. Just because that was quite stark and there was no real warning before it triggered into the emergency C-section that my wife had and so to the point when the consultant was at one end and I was at the other, pushing her down to theatre. So to recount all that was quite a stressful period. The conversations in hospital in the first 24 hours where they weren’t sure our baby would get through the next 24 or 48 hours was the sort of stuff that is obviously hard to go over.
There are periods of time where you feel like experts are visiting every week. We personally decided to try and keep as much of it away from him (son) as is possible, certainly until he could understand exactly what’s happening. You can see various medical experts without really knowing what the purpose of that visit was. You perhaps don’t realise walking into this, that you may need to go and see a specialist in London one month and specialist somewhere else the other month, all with the aim of building up a picture without really knowing whether it is a beneficial outcome.
You do occasionally go through moments of “is this worth it?” but we pull through on strength and conviction. You’ve got something that needs answering!”
The reports are written in a very, very matter of fact way, which is sometimes difficult to hear from a parent’s perspective. Things can be quite bleak when you read medical reports, which can be tough. There are things that you would find from experts that you wouldn’t necessarily find going through the NHS and their standard practice.
Rhian: By the time this claim settled your son was a teenager and he’s also a teenager who understands his position and medical expert reports. Did that have any sort of detrimental effect on him?
Dad: I wouldn’t say noticeably detrimental by nature and personality wise he is quite determined. We were careful about how much we shared with him and what we didn’t share with him. He learned about himself and what challenges he was going to have. I think going through that process probably helped him a little. He would think about things and then say, “well, perhaps I could start working on this” as a way of helping himself. He’s very comfortable in his interactions with adults. I think a lot of that has come from the experience of meeting experts and the legal team. So yeah, I’m thankful every day that we can have a sensible conversation.
Rhian: What would your advice be for parents who find themselves in the horrible situation whereby they have a baby who’s just been diagnosed with a potential brain injury?
Dad: I think that having the diagnosis is a key element. It took time to get that sense from the NHS because of obviously various developmental stages and so forth. But once you’ve got that, it is worth doing your own research to understand help and support is out there. The NHS will do as much as it can do but that’s a finite resource and they’ve got challenges. So, support you can get privately depending on the injury, certainly benefitted. Cerebral Palsy Cymru were great, we’ve had several different therapy sessions with them. These sorts of organizations are geared very specifically for that injury.
Our son first went to Cerebral Palsy Cymru when he was two or three years old and he’s gone periodically since then and they’re really good. I think organizations like that, work on real world situations and examples and support that might be needed. From his perspective, I know he’s doing good things with that and around sports, standing, walking, all the things that are important to him that he wants to work on. They’ve got experts and therapists who can deliver that kind of treatment very specifically aimed at his brain injury.
Rhian: Would you have any general advice for a potential client who may be thinking about a clinical negligence claim for their child.
The biggest single thing is if you genuinely feel that something wasn’t right and that the experience that you went through wasn’t right speak to somebody. There is very little to lose in investigating initially. But I think you’ve got to prepare yourself for a long process, it goes in waves, in fits and starts. Be prepared for quiet times and times where there is nothing else going on but dealing with the case, I think that is one of the biggest things.”
The claim was settled, and we were able to achieve a seven-figure lump sum together with substantial periodical payments for the claimant. The settlement brings about a peace of mind for his parents who are now satisfied that his best interests will be able to be looked after long term.