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HSE Accepts Liability for Wrongful Death of Mother due to Pre-Eclampsia

The HSE had accepted liability for the wrongful death of a new mother due to preventable pre-eclampsia.

In September 2010, Dhara Kivlehan (29) was admitted to Sligo General Hospital for the delivery of her first child. She had been experiencing painless contractions for two days before attending the facility. Dhara was two weeks passed her due date. Upon initial medical examination, she was diagnosed with signs of pre-eclampsia, including high blood pressure and fluid retention around her ankles (also known as oedema).

A blood test was taken to secure the diagnosis. The results showed that she had abnormal kidney and liver function, which are also symptoms of pre-eclampsia.  In spite of the risks to the unborn child, no action was taken due the results of the blood tests not being communicated to Dhara´s doctors for twelve hours. The morning following her admission, Dhara gave birth to her son -Dior – by Caesarean Section and was transferred to a side room off of the main Maternity Ward.

While Dhara was in the side room, her condition started to deteriorate. However, medical staff did not transfer to Intensive Care Unit at Sligo General Hospital until 4.45pm the following day. At 11.00pm that evening, Dhara´s condition became critical and she was air-lifted to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast to receive specialist treatment.

In spite of medical intervention, Dhara died four days later due to multiple organ failure secondary to HELLP syndrome – a variant of pre-eclampsia. As yet, both the Belfast coroner and the Sligo coroner have declined requests to conduct a post-mortem.

Dhara´s husband – Michael – believing that the symptoms of haemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and a low latelet count were not identified and treated in time to prevent his wife´s death, sought legal counsel. He made a compensation claim for fatal hospital errors against the Health Service Executive (HSE) – alleging that the Sligo general Hospital had breached its duty of care and that the care provided for Dhara once she had given birth to Dior was negligent.

The HSE denied liability for Dhara’s death, stating that there had not been a failure in the duty of care by Sligo General Hospital in the treatment that Dhara had received. In spite of their denial, Michael persevered with his claim, and a court hearing was scheduled to determine whether the HSE had a case to answer.

Shortly before the claim for fatal hospital errors was due to be presented in court, the HSE acknowledged that there had been shortcomings in the care provided for Dhara both before and after the birth of her son, and an €800,000 settlement of compensation for fatal hospital errors was negotiated.

The case was heard at the High Court in Dublin. A representative of the HSE  read a statement which apologised unreservedly for the errors that had been made which led to Dhara´s death and offered their condolences to Michael and Dior.

Following the apology, Ms Justice Mary Irvine approved the settlement of compensation for fatal hospital errors, and also used the opportunity to criticise the HSE for “holding out until almost the bitter end” before admitting liability, and consequently causing the Kivlehan family unnecessary distress.

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