liability


“Genetic affinity” an actionable head of damage against IVF clinic

14 February 2018 by

ABC v Thomson Medical Pte Ltd and others, Singapore Civil Court of Appeal  [2017] SGCA 20 – read judgment

It is a trite reflection that law should change with the times but every so often we see the hair-pin bends in law’s pursuit of modern technology.  This case from Singapore about reproductive rights and negligence in an IVF clinic is just such an example. As the judge said at the outset, the need for the law to adjust itself to the changing circumstances of life is clearest  in the area of medical science,

where scientific advancement has made it possible for us to do things today which would previously have been unimaginable a few decades ago. This has brought untold prosperity to many, and hope to those who previously had none; but it has also given us greater capacity for harm.

Background facts

The Appellant, a Chinese Singaporean, and her husband, a German of Caucasian descent, sought to conceive a child through in-vitro fertilisation . The Appellant underwent IVF treatment and delivered a daughter, referred  to in the judgment as “Baby P”. After the birth of Baby P, it was discovered that a serious mistake had been made: the Appellant’s ovum had been fertilised using sperm from an unknown Indian third party instead of sperm from the Appellant’s husband. It turned out that the clinic had processed two semen specimens inside one laminar hood at the same time and failed  to discard the disposable pipettes that had been used after each step of the IVF process.  This had resulted in a baby being born on 1 October 2010, whose DNA did not match her father’s.
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Will genetically-informed medicine upend medical confidentiality?

17 May 2017 by

ABC v St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust and Others [2017] EWCA Civ 336 – read judgment

All the advocates in this case are from 1 Crown Office Row. Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QC, Henry Witcomb QC and Jim Duffy for the Appellant, and Philip Havers QC and Hannah Noyce for the Respondents. None of them were involved in the writing of this post.

In a fascinating twist to the drama of futuristic diagnosis, the Court of Appeal has allowed an argument that doctors treating a Huntington’s patient should have imparted information about his diagnosis to his pregnant daughter to go to trial.

The background to this case is outlined in my earlier post on Nicol J’s ruling in the court below. A patient with an inherited fatal disease asked his doctors not to disclose information to his daughter. The daughter came upon this information accidentally, shortly after the birth of her child, and found, after a genetic test, that she suffered from this condition as well, which has a 50% chance of appearing in the next generation. Had she known this, she would have sought a termination of the pregnancy. She claimed that the doctors were liable to her in damages for the direct effect on her health and welfare.

A claim for “wrongful birth” is well established in law; no claim was made on behalf of the child, who was too young to be tested for the condition. The twist is the duty of secrecy between doctor and patient, which has held very well for the past two centuries. Short of confessions pertaining to homicide or information regarding contagious diseases, the dialogue behind the consulting door should end there.

The problem is that the typical medical relationship only pertains to the pathology of the individual patient. Now that tests are available that make every single one of us a walking diagnosis not only for our own offspring but those of our siblings and their offspring, the one-to-one scenario collapses, along with the limited class of people to whom a doctor owes a duty of care. The pregnant daughter who came across the information about her father’s condition was not the defendant doctor’s patient. In pre-genetic days, that meant there was no duty of care relationship between her father’s doctors and her. But the certainty of hereditability brings her into that circle.
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HRA damages awarded in rape cases

27 July 2014 by

Met-police-Scotland-Yard-007DSD and NVB v The Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [2014] EWHC 2493 (QB), Green J  – read judgment

This is an important summary of the principles applicable to HR damages, particularly in circumstances where there have been other payments already made arguably in respect  of the acts in question. So it should be first port of call if you have an HR damages problem, not least because it gathers all the learning together.

Green J decided in March 2014 that the police had a duty to conduct investigations into particularly severe violent acts in timely and efficient manner, and that there had been systemic failings by the police in investigating a large number of rapes and sexual assaults perpetrated by the so-called “black cab rapist”, one John Worboys. This amounted to a breach of the of the victims’ rights under Article 3 of the ECHR. See Rosalind English’s post on the liability judgment here

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Police have “Osman” duty to investigate in date rape cases

7 March 2014 by

Met-police-Scotland-Yard-007DSD and NVB v The Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [2014] EWHC 436 (QB) – read judgment

The police have a duty to conduct investigations into particularly severe violent acts perpetrated by private parties in a timely and efficient manner. There had been systemic failings by the police in investigating a large number of rapes and sexual assaults perpetrated by the so called “black cab rapist” amounting to a breach of the of the victims’ rights under Article 3 of the ECHR.

The claimants were among the victims of the so called “black cab rapist” (W), who over a six year period between 2002 and 2008 had committed more than 100 drug and alcohol assisted rapes and sexual assaults on women whom he had been carrying in his cab. Both DSD and NVB complained to the police, who commenced investigations, but failed to bring W to justice until 2009. Under the common law the police do not owe a duty of care in negligence in relation to the investigation of crime: See Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire [1989] AC 53 per Lord Keith at pp. 63A-64A and per Lord Templeman at p. 65C-E; Brooks v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis [2005] 1 WLR 1495; and Smith v Chief Constable of Sussex [2009] 1 AC 225.

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“Imprecise” injunctions against Facebook unenforceable, says NI judge

3 December 2013 by

Facebook-from-the-GuardianJ19 and Another v Facebook Ireland [2013] NIQB 113 – read judgment

The High Court in Northern Ireland has chosen to depart from the “robust” Strasbourg approach to service providers and their liability for comments hosted on their sites. Such liability, said the judge, was not consonant with the EC Directive on E-Commerce.

This was an application on behalf of the defendant to vary and discharge orders of injunction dated 27 September 2013 made in the case of both plaintiffs. One of the injunctions  restrained “the defendant from placing on its website photographs of the plaintiff, his name, address or any like personal details until further order.” These interim injunctions were awarded pursuant to writs issued by the plaintiffs for damages by reason of  the publication of photographs, information and comments on the Facebook webpages entitled “Irish Blessings”, “Ardoyne under Siege” and “Irish Banter” on 11 September 2013 and on subsequent dates.
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Internet trolls and why Strasbourg doesn’t want to get involved

14 October 2013 by

2879775-internet_trollDelfi AS v Estonia (Application no. 64569/09)  10 October 2013 – read judgment

This case concerned the liability of an Internet news portal for offensive comments that were posted by readers below one of its online news articles. The following summary is based on the Strasbourg Court’s press release.

The applicant company owns one of the largest internet news sites in Estonia. In January 2006, Delfi published an article on its webpage about a ferry company. It discussed the company’s decision to change the route its ferries took to certain islands. This had caused ice to break where ice roads could have been made in the near future. As a result, the opening of these roads – a cheaper and faster connection to the islands compared to the ferry services – was postponed for several weeks. Below the article, readers were able to access the comments of other users of the site. Many readers had written highly offensive or threatening posts about the ferry operator and its owner.
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IVF Doctor not liable for failing to warn parents of genetic disorder in child – Australian Supreme Court

21 May 2013 by

12280487228o6zg0Waller v James  [2013] NSWSC 497 (6 May 2013) – read judgment

So-called “wrongful birth” cases – where parents claim for the costs of bringing up a child that has been born as a result of the hospital’s alleged negligence – have long been the subject of heated debate.

Since 1999 (MacFarlane v Tayside Health Board) such damages have been refused on grounds of public policy – for the birth of a healthy baby, that is. As far as disabled children are concerned, parents can the additional costs attributable to the disability (Parkinson v St James and Seacroft NHS Trust).  Now that so much more can be predicted with a high level of certainty from pre-birth, even pre-conception genetic tests, where do we stand on public policy in wrongful birth cases where the negligence not so much in failure to treat (failed vasectomies etc) but failure to inform? This Australian case gives some indication of the way the courts may approach such questions.

Background facts

Keeden Waller was conceived by IVF using the Wallers’ own gametes. There was a fifty percent chance that he would inherit from his father a blood disorder called antithrombin deficiency (ATD), a condition that affects the body’s normal blood clotting ability and leads to an increased risk of thrombosis. Keeden suffered a stroke a few days after his birth resulting in severe disabilities, which his parents, Lawrence and Deborah Waller, alleged was the result of ATD. They brought a claim in damages against their doctor for the care of their disabled son and psychological harm to themselves.
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Claims against the Catholic Church: When is there vicarious liability, when is there a duty of care and are the situations different?

16 April 2010 by

Duty of care and the Catholic Church - the MAGA caseWe posted last week on issues of breach of duty in cases involving child protection, and mentioned the MAGA case as an important decision in extending the duty of care to priests in the Catholic church. The lawyers in the case have now written up the judgment.

Case comment by Elizabeth-Anne Gumbel QC and Justin Levinson

(Barristers for the Claimant, MAGA)

MAGA v The Trustees of the Birmingham Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church [2010] EWCA Civ 256, Court of Appeal (Lord Neuberger MR, Lord Justice Longmore and Lady Justice Smith) (read judgment)

This appeal was brought with permission from the trial Judge Mr Justice Jack. The claim arose out of sexual abuse suffered by the Claimant whilst a child living in the area of the Church of Christ the King in Coundon, Coventry. This was a Catholic church under the control of the the Trustees of the Birmingham Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church. The priests appointed to work at that church in the 1970s included a senior priest father McTernan and a younger priest Father Clonan. The Claimant was seriously and repeatedly sexually assaulted over a number of months by the younger priest known as Father Clonan. The abuse took place after Father Clonan befriended the Claimant, invited him to the church youth club and then to the Presbytery where Father Clonan and other priests including the senior Priest Father McTernan lived.

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