Lesley Crouchman, who was aged 35 at the time of the operation in 1991, and already had three children, was in fact already pregnant when she saw the gynaecologist, Michael Burke.
Mrs Crouchman, a Roman Catholic, discovered the pregnancy at 15 weeks, by which time it was too late for an early suction termination. After seeing her baby on a scan she felt unable to have the pregnancy terminated by induced labour. The child, Matthew, is now five.
Mr Justice Langley ruled on the evidence that Mr Burke, who had ethical objections to conducting terminations, had not been in a position to exclude the possibility of pregnancy, but had led Mrs Crouchman, who currently lives in China with her husband, a civil engineer, to believe that the possibility had been excluded because he was to conduct a D & C at the same time as the sterilisation. The D & C, however, was only partial, and intended to investigate menstrual irregularity.
Until now, the medical profession has generally regarded the risk that a woman might already be pregnant at a sterilisiation as a remote risk which would not open practitioners to claims.
The medical negligence award to 41-year-old Mrs Crouchman included pounds 102,521 for the cost of the upkeep of Matthew to the age of 21, and her own personal injury damages of pounds 5,000.
In finding against Mr Burke, the judge stressed: "I do not accept or intend that this conclusion should necessitate any change in clinical practice, radical or otherwise. The criticisms which I have made are ones of communication to this patient in the particular context, which I have held occurred."
After the judgment, Mrs Crouchman's lawyers said the case extended medical negligence liability to a sterilisation operation carried out when the woman has already conceived, unknown to herself or the gynaecologist.
They stressed that, until now, the medical profession had generally regarded the risk that a woman may already be pregnant at such an operation as a remote risk, and therefore defensible against a negligence claim.
Lawyers for Mr Burke said they were considering an appeal. Patricia Wynn DaviesReuse content