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Terminally ill woman awarded €2.1m in smear test case

Updated: May 31, 2019

Ruth Morrissey has won her High Court action over the misreading of smear tests and the failure to tell her about it. The 37-year-old and her husband have been awarded €2.1 million in damages.





Ms Morrissey and her husband Paul, of Monaleen in Co Limerick, sued the Health Service Executive and two laboratories - Quest Diagnostics and MedLab Pathology Limited. Ms Morrissey was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014 and the case related to cervical smears taken under the CervicalCheck Screening programme in 2009 and 2012.


Have a question about Workplace Accidents, Medical Negligence or Personal Injury? Contact us on 087 2285247 or law@petermcdonnell.ie


The court heard she was not told until May last year that a 2014 review showed two smears taken under the CervicalCheck screening programme were reported incorrectly.

Speaking outside the court, Ms Morrissey said she did not think that she would be in this position "because our Taoiseach told us none of us would have to go through this, but unfortunately I’m one that had to".


"I hope that's a positive thing, so the women who are left, they don’t need to do this and fight for their right to have a good life of what they've left. "I'd encourage every woman to continue on getting their smears (test) even though it failed me, but it does save many, many lives ... this is not a cancer that you want." Ms Morrissey also thanked her husband for being her "rock through everything", as well as both their families and her medical and legal teams. She said: "I just want to move on and spent what quality time I have left with my daughter."


Ms Morrissey claimed that if the tests in 2009 and 2012 had been correctly reported, she could have been successfully treated and would not have developed cancer.

She was diagnosed with a recurrence of her cancer in February last year and given a prognosis of 12 to 24 months. Ms Morrissey told the court she did not think she would ever have been told about the review of smear tests if it had not been for the case of Vicky Phelan, who settled her case against a US laboratory a year ago.


While a number of other women have also reached settlements, it is the first such case to have been heard in full and to be considered in a High Court judgment. In his judgment today, Mr Justice Kevin Cross found that the laboratory who tested the 2009 smear slide, Quest Diagnostics, was negligent and in breach of duty.


He found the second lab, MedLab Pathology, which tested her 2012 smear, was not negligent in its failure to determine the slide contained abnormal cell, but he said that they were negligent or in breach of duty by not testing the adequacy of this slide.

The judge said if this had happened, the slide would probably have been reported as inadequate and Ms Morrissey would have been retested between one and three months.

Ms Morrissey also claimed that if she had known about the 2014 review, she would have asked for more scans and better surveillance of her condition.


Today, the court found that the HSE was not negligent in this regard and that Ms Morrissey should fail in these allegations. However, the judge said if the 2009 slide had been properly analysed and the 2012 slide deemed inadequate, the events that would probably have followed meant that Ms Morrissey would never have contracted cancer.

He said she would have been spared the pain and distress of what followed, she would not have been subjected to radium and chemotherapy treatment and would not have been left with the knowledge that she had only at most two years to live.


Mr Justice Cross said that Ms Morrissey's life has "been ruined" and that she will be "aware of that fact for the rest of her life". He said she suffered a "life sentence of which she is fully aware, which is expected to take effect within two years". The judge described what happened to Ms Morrissey as suffering a "catastrophic injury, no less than that of a tetraplegic or someone with brain damage".


The case ran for 37 days - it began in July last year and resumed in January. Ms Morrissey, who has a young daughter, told the court she did not want to die.

The HSE admitted it owed a duty of care to Ms Morrissey. The laboratories denied all the claims.


Financial Blueprint of a Medical Negligence Case


Medical Negligence and personal injury cases are often a topic of conversation in Ireland. A case is built on the strength of expert reports and testimony. The ancillary costs are driven up by lack of access to salient medical records and details. This further underlines the need for mandatory disclosure and the need for patients to have live access to their own updated medical records.


At Peter McDonnell & Associates we know from experience that the single greatest cause of worry for clients is the issue of legal fees and costs. People worry that before a case commences or at the end of their case, they will be presented with a large legal bill that will be impossible to pay.


Have a question about Workplace Accidents, Medical Negligence or Personal Injury? Contact us on 087 2285247 or law@petermcdonnell.ie


*In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or a proportion of any award or settlement.

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*In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage or a proportion of any award or settlement.