Damages awarded for woman scalded in bath

A disabled woman suffered appalling burns when careworkers lowering her into a scalding bath mistook her distress for an epileptic fit, the High Court heard today.

Jeanette De Bono was burnt on 40% of her body surface, with 10% of the injuries being severe, and needed intravenous pain relief after the accident at Eight Ash Court nursing home, Colchester, Essex, in August 2002.

Miss De Bono, now 28, has Retts Syndrome and has been in residential care for most of her life since the condition, which causes the regression of sufferers who appear normal at birth, was diagnosed when she was four.

At a hearing in London to approve an agreed award of substantial undisclosed damages, Robert Glancy QC said that, before the accident, Miss De Bono had a severe learning disability, no verbal communication, mobility problems, breathing disturbances, scoliosis and epilepsy.

But her condition was well-controlled with medication and she could walk several hundred yards and lead an active and enjoyable life with trips to restaurants, pubs and cinemas.

After a lengthy recovery in hospital, with two periods of respiratory failure, Miss De Bono had made a reasonable recovery but lost what little mobility she had.

"She suffered psychiatric trauma for some years, her epilepsy was worse for a considerable time and her mood was very down indeed," counsel told Mr Justice Langstaff.

"To some extent she has recovered and her mood is more or less back to what it was, although still quite fragile. Her epilepsy is better controlled and she has recovered most of her skills."

He added that Miss De Bono's complex needs were now being met at The Dairy House care home, in Taunton, Somerset, near the home of her parents, Errol and Joyce.

The settlement against Wellcare Nursing Home, St Helen's Place, central London, would provide her with equipment like a powered wheelchair and a vehicle to allow the family to go on outings.

Jonathan Watt-Pringle QC expressed the defendant's deep regret for Miss De Bono's injuries and hopes for a better future.

The judge said that it was a case of an injury which was described correctly as "appalling".

He added: "The horror of it was that the claimant was unable to communicate and when she was lowered into a bath of water which was far too hot for her, her physical reactions were interpreted as an epileptic fit."

He said that the defendant had recognised at an early stage that it should be responsible for all the financial consequences, which had been difficult to determine because of Miss De Bono's existing disabilities, and an "appropriate and reasonable" settlement had been reached.

"It is plain that Miss De Bono has devoted and loving parents and it is plain that they have on her behalf been very well advised," the judge added.

Rebecca Cherry, of law firm Irwin Mitchell's medical law and patients' rights team, said: "Jeanette suffered terribly as a result of the injuries she sustained after being lowered into a scalding hot bath at the very nursing home that was supposed to care for and protect her, and by staff who she and her parents had placed their trust in.

"Though relieved that this matter has now been brought to a close and that Jeanette will receive access to the funds she needs to help her live as normal a life as possible in spite of her injuries, Mr and Mrs De Bono are extremely saddened by the impact this tragic incident has had on their daughter.

"It is imperative that lessons are now learnt from this case to ensure that no one ever again has to suffer the physical pain or psychiatric trauma that Jeanette has."

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