Blind Woman May Get Big Damages for Healthy Baby

Could Be a Legal Precedent

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LONDON, FEB. 14, 2002 ( A blind woman who had a baby after a failed sterilization procedure has been told she will be entitled to six-figure compensation, BBC reported today.

The Appeal Court ruling marks the first time that damages have been allowed for the costs of bringing up a healthy child. Until now, it has been a legal principle that parents cannot be compensated for the costs of bringing up healthy children, even if their birth resulted from so-called medical negligence.

Karina Rees, 29, from Darlington, was born with genetic disorder retinitis pigmentosa. She is blind in her left eye and has only one sixth of normal vision in her right.

Her attorney Robin de Wilde told the Appeal Court she had been «adamant» she wanted to be sterilized because of her visual handicap which made her doubt her ability to cope with a baby.

She underwent the sterilization at Darlington Memorial Hospital in 1995 but one of her fallopian tubes was not fully tied. In October the following year, she discovered she was pregnant. She gave birth to her son Anthony in April 1997 and has since cared for him with the help of her family and social workers. The boy´s father has played no part in his upbringing.

Darlington Memorial Hospital NHS Trust admitted the sterilization was «negligently performed» but disputed the amount of compensation due to Rees.

Last May, Judge Stuart Brown decided that he was bound to refuse to award Rees a penny to cover the cost of bringing up her son to his 18th birthday. The judge´s decision meant that Rees´ damages would be limited to a modest sum — probably less than £10,000 — for her «pain and suffering» and any financial losses resulting from her unplanned pregnancy and labor.

But the Appeal Court´s decision means she is now entitled to damages — almost certainly a six-figure sum — to cover the extra costs of bringing up Anthony attributable to her disability. The exact amount of her compensation has yet to be assessed.

Lord Justice Robert Walker agreed that Rees´ appeal should be allowed, but he gave a dissenting judgment. «Ordinary people would think that it was not fair that a disabled person should recover, when mothers who may in effect become disabled by ill-health through having a healthy child would not,» he said.

The National Health Service Trust may still petition the Law Lords directly for an appeal hearing.

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