Secondary victim of medical negligence receives award

For the first time, a secondary victim of medical negligence recovered damages for her trauma in the Court of Appeal case of a mother whose baby died in her arms after two days of suffering

“The case makes it clear that the law relates to clinical negligence in the same way that it applies to people that have to witness the aftermath of road traffic accidents or a train crash,” said Stephen Webber, a solicitor at law firm Hugh James, who represented Ceri Walters. He anticipates that the ruling, North Glamorgan NHS Trust v Walters, will open the way for other such claims.

The case catalogues the harrowing psychiatric injuries to Walters over the last two days of her 10-month-old baby's life. She awoke at around 3am to find her son wracked by convulsions and vomiting blood. An hour later a doctor told her that he was unharmed and, following a CAT scan, there was no damage to his brain. In fact, her son had suffered acute hepatitis that led to liver failure.

“The defendants had claimed that the time from when the baby fitted until the time the baby died was a 36-hour period, and wasn't 'sudden appreciation by sight or sound of a horrifying event' under the Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police ruling, and therefore she couldn't recover,” said Webber. The Alcock case related to the Hillsborough Football Stadium disaster.

“There must have been chilling moments, truly shocking events… thus amply justifying… that this was an horrific event,” said Lord Justice Ward. He ruled that Walters had suffered an “assault on her nervous system”.