David Knifton KC secures “excellent outcome” in cerebral palsy claim

April 2, 2024

In a liability compromise approved today by the High Court in Newcastle, David Knifton KC has secured what the Judge described as an “excellent outcome” on behalf of a child who suffered quadriplegic cerebral palsy at the time of his birth at The Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle Upon Tyne, in 2014.

The child (known as AWZ under the terms of an anonymity order protecting his identity) is profoundly disabled as a result of suffering a prolonged period of intra-uterine hypoxia prior to his delivery by caesarean section. His mother had attended hospital with a suspected placental abruption, but there was a negligent delay before the midwives summoned the consultant obstetrician to review her, approximately 45 minutes after her arrival. Thereafter, despite a non-reassuring CTG, it was decided not to intervene until the fetal heart rate collapsed. Regrettably, by the time the baby was delivered, he had suffered profound hypoxic brain damage.

Although the Trust admitted a breach of duty in failing to seek earlier medical review, both breach of duty and causation were denied, upon the basis that the decision not to expedite delivery was reasonable, in the absence of clear abnormalities on the CTG trace. Moreover, the Trust’s obstetric expert contended that the acute hypoxic event had been precipitated by the artificial rupture of the membranes undertaken shortly beforehand, such that the same outcome would have followed even if the doctor had been called earlier.

Recognising that the issues were finely balanced, at a settlement meeting in January 2024, David Knifton KC carefully negotiated a compromise under which the Trust will be liable for 55% of the damages that would have been payable had the Claimant’s hypoxic brain injury been held entirely attributable to the Defendant’s negligence. As the Judge commented in approving that compromise, this represented a “very good outcome”, in circumstances where there was a significant risk that the claim would have failed at trial, with no compensation at all being recovered. As he told the Claimant’s mother: “You have been very well looked-after by your legal team”.

The parties will now co-operate in investigating the value of the claim by commissioning reports from a number of experts, in the expectation that the case will settle for a very substantial sum of damages before the quantum trial is due to be heard in late 2025.

Commenting on the settlement, David said: “It has been a privilege to represent this child and his parents. Through their tremendous dedication and care, he has made remarkable progress in overcoming the many difficulties presented by his profound disability. They now have the enormous advantage of knowing that his future will be financially secure, enabling them to plan their lives accordingly. Fortunately, the skill and experience of their legal team, together with the sensible and measured approach taken by the Trust’s lawyers, has enabled a difficult case to be compromised in a manner which undoubtedly benefits both parties.”  

David Knifton was instructed by Clair Wilson, Principal Medical Negligence Lawyer at Thompsons Solicitors