Father settles court action over death of his wife and newborn son at Cork University Maternity Hospital 

CUMH said it was 'truly sorry' in an apology read in court. 
Father settles court action over death of his wife and newborn son at Cork University Maternity Hospital 

Marie Downey holding her newborn son Darragh in the hospital bed in CUMH on March 23, 2019, the day after he was born. Kieran Downey holds his son, Sean, while James, right, pats the head of his new baby brother. It is the only family photograph of all five together. Marie died two days later. Darragh died 33 hours later.

Cork University Maternity Hospital has apologised and said it is “truly sorry” after a mother died when she fell out of a bed while breast-feeding and her new born baby suffocated under her.

Marie Downey broke her neck in the fall three days after giving birth to her third child, a son, Darragh.

The Downey family counsel, Dr John O’Mahony SC with Doireann O’Mahony Bl, told the High Court this was a monumentally sad and profoundly tragic and heart-breaking case where baby Darragh suffocated under his mother.

He said when Ms Downey was removed from the ground in her hospital room and her baby was found suffocated, baby Darragh fought bravely for life but died the next day at just four days old after suffering an irreversible brain injury, counsel said.

The apology came as Marie Downey’s husband Kieran from Limerick settled a High Court action over the deaths of his wife and son.

The hospital, in a letter of apology read to the court, said it was “truly sorry” and unreservedly apologised to Kieran Downey and family.

In the letter, Cork University Maternity Hospital said it would like to apologise unreservedly to Mr Downey his sons James, 8, and Sean, 5, and the extended family “for the events that occurred while Marie and Darragh were under the care of CUMH which resulted in the tragic loss of their lives in March 2019".

The letter added: “We cannot possibly comprehend the devastating impact these losses have had on you, James and Sean.

"On behalf of the staff of CUMH, especially those who were involved in the care of Marie and baby Darragh, we are truly sorry and wish to express our deepest sympathies and regret.” 

A life-changing episode 

Dr John O’Mahony told the court it was “ a life changing tragic episode for the Downey family”.

"They are going to live with this for the rest of their lives,” he added.

Mr Downey, it was claimed, was rocked to the core when his newborn son was found on the hospital floor with his dead mother partially on top of him.

Counsel said the 35-year-old mother, who was known to have epilepsy, was breastfeeding when she fell from the bed.

“Marie fell from the bed on top of Baby Darragh. It is tragic on what was supposed to be a joyous occasion for the family, looking forward to the third addition to their family,” he said.

Kieran Downey, 40, Knockanevin, Kilmallock, Co Limerick, had sued the HSE over the death of his wife and four-day-old baby. He also brought an action for nervous shock.

Baby Darragh, the Downeys' third child, was born on March 22, 2019, weighing 3.76kg and was in excellent condition. The third stage of labour, it was claimed, was complicated by postpartum haemorrhage, excessive bleeding and it was claimed Ms. Downey lost half of her circulating blood volume.

There was, it was claimed, a failure to intervene in circumstances where intervention was clearly warranted and a failure to appreciate that the loss of that amount of blood would have been sufficient to cause the mother to feel exhausted, fatigued, and tired, which were known to be the triggers for seizures in her case.

Ms Downey was allowed to stay unobserved in a single room when breastfeeding and no attention was paid to safety measures such as the provision of cot sides, it was claimed.

There was also a failure to appreciate that the mother should not have been accommodated in a single room except in circumstances where there would be continuous observation by a carer.

The decision to place Ms Downey in a single room without supervision was an ultimately fatal decision, it was contended, and there was a failure to recognise that breastfeeding would be a potentially dangerous time for any mother with a history of postnatal seizures.

There was, it was submitted, a failure to pay heed to the fact that Ms Downey herself had warned of the dangers of her seizing while breastfeeding unsupervised, and a failure to adequately monitor the mother while she was breastfeeding alone in a single room.

HSE admits breach of duty 

The HSE admitted negligence and breach of duty.

A post-mortem on Ms Downey reported she died of a broken neck following a fall three days after she gave birth and secondary to epilepsy.

The post-mortem on Baby Darragh showed findings consistent with the baby being compressed beneath his mother and the floor.

Approving the settlement, Mr Justice Paul Coffey extended his deepest sympathy to Kieran Downey and family.

He said nothing could prepare them for this extraordinary tragedy and it was hard to imagine the tragedy that occurred. 

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