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Perineal tear injury and faecal incontinence claims

Perineal or vaginal tears may occur quite naturally, as a consequence of childbirth. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists estimates that over 85% of women who have a vaginal birth will suffer some degree of perineal trauma and of these 60-70% will need suturing.  However while perineal tears are common for many women in childbirth the subsequent inadequate or negligent treatment of them can lead to a claim for compensation.

Women who have suffered from traumatic perineal tears are often reluctant to discuss their symptoms believing that vaginal injury is a necessary part of having a baby.  Symptoms can include severe pain, incontinence of flatus (wind) and solid stool and agonisingly painful sexual intercourse.  For some women these symptoms can last for years and cause them great misery, pain, and for some, psychological damage. 

It is vital for women's future well-being that injuries to the perineum are correctly identified as quickly as possible and that expert advice is sought by midwives and doctors attending deliveries.  Whilst not all tears will lead to a successful claim for compensation clinical negligence lawyers at Leigh Day have successfully represented many women who have suffered severe 3rd and 4th degree tears that have been misdiagnosed and treated negligently.  Our lawyers are recognised as obstetric litigation experts in the leading legal directories.

Maternal injury and faecal incontinence: a lawyer’s experience

Clinical negligence lawyer Claire Fazan has many years’ experience representing women suffering from a cruel but rarely mentioned injury, faecal incontinence, that changes and ruins lives.

Claire says: ‘Too many women suffer the misery of faecal incontinence and/or urgency after their babies are born. This is not always because of negligent care – but sometimes it can be. Sometimes there are treatment options which can help to improve or manage their symptoms in a way that gives them more control over their lives and which suits them.

For other women there is little realistic hope of improvement and many will
suffer low self-esteem and depression.

For more than 20 years I have acted for women whose lives have been devastated by maternal injury and have regularly been struck by how isolated, humiliated and anxious they feel. Many of my clients have never spoken to anyone about the impact such injuries have had on their lives, and on those of people close to them. For some the condition is so bad that they do not know they have had a bowel movement until after it has happened. Others only have seconds of warning before they need to go.

Women injured in this way are often incredibly embarrassed about what is happening to them, and cannot talk about it. They have experienced accidents in humiliating circumstances such as when out shopping, travelling, cooking, when visiting friends or at work, or in bed.  They live in a constant state of anxiety that it will happen again.

How do you tell even your closest friend that you are too frightened to go out because of what happened the last time you did so? How do you and your partner find the love and courage to resume your sexual relationship? How do you decide between attending to the crying baby who needs you and getting to the bathroom in time to avoid an accident?

These are the decisions women injured this way have to make every day. As a result, many confine themselves to their own home. They withdraw from the world. They withdraw from relationships and company.’

Faecal incontinence blights and restricts the life of all the family, children and adults alike. It places huge pressure on family relationships and all too often leads to relationships breaking down entirely. Invariably women cannot return to work, adding financial pressure to all the other stresses.

Where negligence is proved and compensation awarded, it can be used to pay for medical treatment, care and assistance in the home, psychiatric and psychosexual therapeutic treatment for the injured woman and her partner.  Compensation can also provide for lost earnings and other financial losses.

Every case is different.  Claire has secured compensation in a range of between five and seven figure sums.

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