Damages of £4.1m awarded to gifted girl trapped in disabled body

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The Independent Online

A gifted child who was severely disabled due to a medical accident at birth was awarded £4.1m damages by a High Court judge yesterday.

The court heard that Lucy Webster, aged seven, has one of the highest IQs in Britain, but has problems with her movement and speech. The accident had deprived her of a university education and the near certainty of reaching the top of her chosen profession, according to her counsel.

Lucy developed cerebral palsy after being deprived of oxygen at her birth at Queen Charlotte's Hospital, west London, on Christmas Day 1994.

As a result she is dependent upon a wheelchair and needs assistance with everyday life and a carer at school.

She has difficulty with fine movements and people who do not know her find it difficult to understand her speech.

Judge Michael Dean, sitting in London, awarded around £400,000 for loss of potential earnings and £3.5m to be paid into a care fund by Hammersmith Hospitals NHS Trust, which admitted liability but contested the amount of compensation claimed, describing it as "staggering".

The judge told the girl's parents: "I would like to express my sympathy. Lucy does seem to be a charming and intelligent little girl and I do hope that she will cope with the disabilities, as I'm sure she will."

But the judge said she was a determined little girl and tried to help herself as much as she could. Despite being prone to unexpected, involuntary limb movements, she had a dominant left hand and could write, draw and feed herself with a spoon if her food was cut up.

She was also extremely intelligent and had been accepted at a top London preparatory school, Bute House, where she hoped to start in September. Tests when she was six-and-a-half showed that she had the reading age of a child of eight-and-a-half years and the mathematical ability of a seven-and-a-half-year-old. Her results on verbal ability were "outstanding" and equivalent to a child aged 12 and a half.

An expert, who advised that she should be educated to the highest academic standards, concluded: "She is a gifted child. Quite what heights she would have reached verbally had she not been disabled are hard to imagine. Academically, using verbal ability as the only yardstick, she is capable of the highest levels.

"Lucy is a girl with a severe physical disability, an average non-verbal intelligence and one of the highest verbal IQs in the country."

Lucy, an only child, lives with her parents, Andrew, a 42-year-old chartered building contract surveyor, and Marguerite, 44, a personal assistant in Chiswick, west London. Lucy's counsel, Simeon Maskrey QC, said the money must last for more than 50 years "to ensure Lucy has a fulfilled a life as possible".