Damages for the additional cost of bringing up autistic child recoverable against doctor who failed to warn mother of haemophilia risk

[NOTE:  This decision was reversed on appeal – see this blog here]

A negligent doctor is liable for the foreseeable consequences of the breach of duty which would not have occurred ‘but for’ the negligence.  In Meadows v Khan [2017] EWHC 2990 a mother sought to establish whether she carried the haemophilia gene prior to becoming pregnant.  Her doctor arranged a test and based on the results she was given reassurance.  In fact the test only confirmed she did not have haemophilia, not that she wasn’t a carrier.  She was a carrier and when she subsequently became pregnant and gave birth, her child had haemophilia.  Had she not been negligently advised, and had she therefore known that she was a carrier, the judge accepted that she would have undergone foetal testing and had a termination.  She was therefore entitled to the additional costs of bringing up a haemophiliac child.  So far this case followed the settled pattern for a ‘wrongful birth’ case.

However in addition the child suffered from autism, unrelated to the haemophilia.  The risk of autism exists with every birth and therefore autism was a natural and foreseeable consequence of birth.  The mother would have terminated the pregnancy but for the doctor’s negligence, and in the absence of that negligence, and on the balance of probabilities, any child she subsequently had would not have had autism (each birth carrying the same small risk of autism).  As a consequence the mother could recover in addition to the additional costs of bringing up a haemophiliac child, the additional costs of bringing up an autistic child (following Chester v Afshar [2004] UKHL 41).

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