Dunne v National Maternity Hospital: A landmark case in Irish medical negligence law
2 minute read
In the annals of Irish tort law, the case of Dunne v National Maternity Hospital in 1985 stands as a significant milestone. Augustus Cullen Law acted for Catherine Dunne.
This case, heard in the Supreme Court of Ireland, has had a profound influence on the assessment of medical negligence, establishing six core rules that continue to guide legal proceedings in this area.
The case centred around our client, Catherine Dunne, who was admitted to the National Maternity Hospital on 20th March 1982, pregnant with twins and in labour two weeks ahead of her estimated delivery date. The hospital’s routine practice at the time was to monitor the heart rate of only one twin during labour in a multiple pregnancy. Tragically, the second twin was born dead, and the first twin suffered severe brain damage, leading to irreversible quadriplegia and mental handicap.
The High Court trial, which lasted 15 days, was conducted before a judge and jury. The jury ruled against the hospital, awarding the plaintiff a substantial sum in damages.
Our client was awarded IR£1,039,334 in compensation
This amount is worth over €2,200,000 today.
The defendants appealed, challenging the jury’s findings, the size of the damages and the trial judge’s instructions to the jury on the issue of negligence.
The “Dunne Principles” now applied to every medical negligence case in Ireland
The Supreme Court, led by Finlay CJ, upheld the High Court’s ruling unanimously. The judgement in the Dunne case set out six prerequisites, now known as the “Dunne principles”. These principles essentially state that a medical practitioner can only be deemed negligent if they take a course of action that no reasonable practitioner of equal status would have taken under the same circumstances.
The Dunne case remains a landmark in Irish medical negligence law, with the “Dunne principles” continuing to serve as the appropriate test for medical negligence in Ireland. In 2020, the Supreme Court clarified in its decision on another ruling that the Dunne principles remained the appropriate test for medical negligence claims in Ireland.
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