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Supreme Court reduces symphysiotomy award to €325,000

Olivia Kearney will receive €325,000 instead of the €450,000 awarded by the High Court in March.

Image: Barratts/S&G Barratts/EMPICS Archive

A 60-YEAR-OLD woman who has suffered over 40 years of pain and discomfort because of an unnecessary childbirth procedure has seen her compensation award of €450,000 slashed to €325,000 in the Supreme Court today.

Louth woman Olivia Kearney underwent an unjustified symphysiotomy procedure in Our Lady’s Hospital Drogheda in 1969 when she was just 18-years-old. In March, the High Court handed her a €450,000 award for all past and future damages.

In his ruling on the appeal today, Justice John MacMenamin upheld the High Court’s decision on liability but changed the amount awarded to a total of €350,000 for both past and future general damages.

He said that he did not want to underestimate the very serious nature of the injuries and their effects to the plaintiff but explained they fell short of the highest category of awards which the original sum would fit into. He said injuries which have been awarded such sums in the past include tetraplegia or other extensive neurological damage with devastating psychological consequences, which he described as “truly catastrophic”.

Justice MacMenamin explained that the reduction in the award is in no sense a reflection on Mrs Kearney’s truthfulness or her credibility as a witness, adding that her testimony was understated.

He said he took into account her 25 years of work and other aspects of a ‘normal life’ when making his judgement.

Symphysiotomy is a childbirth operation that unhinges the pelvis, severing the symphysis joint. It was used in Ireland throughout the 1940s to 1980s despite being discarded for safe options in other jurisdictions.

Around 150 women survive today, many of them permanently disabled, incontinent and in pain.

Kearney only discovered that the surgery had been performed on her in 2002 after listening to a radio show and matching her life-long medical problems to those being discussed.

The High Court heard that a symphysiotomy was carried out on Mrs Kearney after her baby had been delivered by Caesarean section.

Marie O’Connor from the Survivors of Symphysiotomy group said today’s result is a victory that sends out the “strongest possible signal” that the procedure is a mutilating operations that should never have been performed.

“This case sets a benchmark for future cases,” she added. “SoS has been battling for truth and justice for a decade, but successive governments have kicked to touch. Hundreds of survivors have gone to their graves without ever seeing justice.”

She reiterated calls for the Government to lift the Statute of Limitations so all survivors of symphysiotomy and pubiotomy can access the courts.

Column: Symphysiotomy was seen as a gateway to childbearing without limits

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