Victim of bungled sterilisation wins compensation

Gail Taylor loves her youngest son, John, very much, despite doing her best to prevent his birth.

Gail Taylor loves her youngest son, John, very much, despite doing her best to prevent his birth.

He is a "happy little boy" who likes playing with toy trains, especially Thomas the Tank Engine. Yesterday, 10 years after his unexpected arrival, Mrs Taylor won a record £1.3m damages for his "wrongful birth", against Shropshire Health Authority.

Mrs Taylor became pregnant with John, her fifth child, seven months after she was sterilised in December 1987.

John was born severely disabled in April 1989, after a traumatic delivery. John, now 10, has autism, epilepsy and asthma, the mental age of a child half his age, behavioural problems and the social skills of a three-year-old.

He is a day pupil at a special school and will need full-time care for the rest of his life. He will never be able to work.

The constant strain of caring for John has cost Mrs Taylor a marriage, a home and a career: she is separated from John's father, her second husband, and has had to move house as well as giving up her nursing career to become a full-time carer.

She admits, candidly, that when John was born she resented him for almost killing her. But now, although she has little time to do anything but care for him, she does not regret his birth.

"I would not be without John; he has been a tower of strength," she said yesterday. "But I feel very bitter towards the health authority, for myself and John, for letting the case drag on.

"I've been very stressed and the whole court ordeal has been awful."

The failure rate for the 40,000 sterilisations that are performed on women in the UK each year, is around one in 200. In cases where sterilised women become pregnant and negligence can be proven, compensation in usually in the region of £200,000.

Mrs Taylor, 38, has been fighting for compensation from Shropshire Health Authority for the past nine years.

She claimed damages in excess of £1m following a High Court ruling that a laparoscopic, or keyhole, sterilisation carried out at the Oswestry and District Hospital, Shropshire, by Mr David Redford, a consultant gynaecologist, had been "negligently performed". The operation involves clipping back a woman's fallopian tubes. In Mrs Taylor's case one tube was still "working" because the clip was not put in the correct place.

The damages awarded yesterday by Judge Anthony Nicholl took into account loss of earnings during the pregnancy and the cost of looking after John for the rest of Mrs Taylor's life.

The judge said in a written statement: "She has had to devote her life to the care of John. Her need to do so is a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the failure to sterilise her and the subsequent birth of a severely handicapped son."

Judge Nicholl rejected an application on behalf of Shropshire Health Authority for leave to appeal against the assessment of damages.

The money will be put into a trust fund for John.

Mrs Taylor, who lives in Hadley, near Telford, Shropshire, said she was astonished by the high settlement. "I didn't think I would be awarded that much money," she said.

She said she it would make things much easier and John would now have a better life. "My hope is that John is going to have a good future. [The payout] will provide professional carers for him.

"John and I will go away for a couple of days and when we come back, we will start looking for a nice new home with a secure garden in the Telford area," she said. "I am hoping to get a house with a double garage and turn one of the garages into a train room.

"John is a lovely little boy, very polite and full of life. He has not got a great understanding of what is going on. All he knows is that the judge has given him lots of money for toy trains. He loves train sets."

Mrs Taylor said the first thing she was going to buy John was a laptop computer.

Her solicitor, Richard Follis, said after the court case: "We're very pleased we have been so successful on behalf of Gail and received the largest award for a case of this kind in the country. It means people in Gail's position will no longer be treated as second-class citizens. There could be larger awards in the future.

"Gail has worked primarily as a carer. If this had been a high-flying company director or a banker, the compensation could have been considerably more."

Mr Follis said Mrs Taylor had suffered "dreadful pain and anxiety due to the failed sterilisation and almost died following John's birth".

Mrs Taylor has three children who live with her first husband: Andrew, 22, Melissa, 17 and Stuart, 15.

Her fourth child, Richard, died at the age of 11 on 23 July 1998 from encephalitis, a swelling of the brain.

After Melissa' birth, Mrs Taylor suffered heavy bleeding and spent seven months in hospital. When Richard, was born, she became worried that having more children would be fatal so asked a consultant gynaecologist for a hysterectomy. He refused, saying that she was too young, but eventually agreed to sterilise her.

Mrs Taylor said the trauma of Richard's death had made her determined to be there full-time for John to ensurethat he received the best possible care. "John has a lot of problems and I want to be there for him - he is more important than going out to work." "A lot of people haven't lost a child before. I don't want to lose another son. I will never give my son over to full-time professional care, but I will need help with him when he gets older," she said.

"I give him love and he gives me love in return. I love him very much. I can never see a time when I would not want to care for him."