Judge increases compensation for woman over hep C infection

© The Irish Times

A judge has increased to €250,000 a sum of €180,000 compensation awarded to a woman who suffered “life-destroying” side effects, including a brain injury, following treatment to deal with being infected with hepatitis C through the blood product Anti-D.

Mr Justice Bernard Barton increased by €70,000 the €180,000 award made by the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal after the woman developed severe side effects, including cirrhosis of her liver and a brain injury, as a result of undergoing treatment two years ago.

The woman, who cannot be identified by court order, received an anti-D injection in 1977 which came from a batch infected with hepatitis C.

In 1998, she secured an interim award of £283,000 compensation from the Tribunal.

Arising out of her complications, she sought further compensation and was awarded an additional €180,000 earlier this year.

  She argued that sum was insufficient and inadequate and appealed to the High Court. The tribunal failed, when making the award, to have regard to another case where a woman infected with hepatitis C, who also developed cirrhosis, was awarded €250,00O, it was also argued.

The Minister for Health opposed the woman’s appeal and submitted her case was different to the one involving a €250,000 award.

It was argued the treatment afforded to the woman was not compensatable because it began before she was diagnosed with “decompensated” cirrhosis, a condition that can lead to life threatening complications due to the level of damage the liver has sustained.

The court heard the woman had decided in 2013, following medical advice, to undergo a treatment known as interferon/ribavirin therapy to deal with the virus. She underwent the treatment after tests revealed a serious deterioration in the condition of her liver, suggestive of possible cirrhosis.

While the treatment cleared the virus, it also triggered decompensated cirrhosis. The woman also developed another serious side effect, encephalopathy, resulting in psychological and physical effects including slurred speech and forgetfulness. The condition is irreversible and requires on-going medical treatment.

Allowing the woman’s appeal, Mr Justice Barton said the court had the jurisdiction to compensate the woman for the pain and suffering arising out of the treatment she underwent in 2013. That treatment amounted to “a medical necessity” even though it commenced before there was a diagnosis of cirrohosis, he found.

The “mental anguish” the woman has suffered was “abundantly clear” from the evidence, he said.

Notwithstanding having hepatitis C she had lived as full and independent a life as possible but her encephalopathy had “effectively destroyed” that life, he said.

Since developing the condition, she could no longer go shopping, had a tendency to trip, needed her husband’s arm for support when they were out together and socialised less, he said. She had told the court of having “lost a whole sense of herself”.

It was rather sad the woman did not think there was much to her life any more, he added.

Despite all this, the woman had said it was important to her to keep up her appearance and “not to frighten her grandchildren,” who are “an important part of her life”

In all the circumstances, she was entitled to be compensated in the “fair and reasonable” sum of €250,000, he ruled.

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