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Family of elderly man settle court action over his death

The family of an elderly man who died after a fall at University Hospital Waterford (UHW) have settled a High Court action for damages.

Bobby Gaule had been admitted to hospital as he recovered from heart surgery but had a fall when he went to the bathroom in the early hours of 4 December 2020.

He had suffered a head trauma after hitting his head on a wall.

The court was told the 70-year-old had heart surgery in a Dublin hospital in October 2020 and the following month was transferred to UHW to recuperate.

A falls risk assessment had been carried out and he was classed as being at a medium risk of falling and he was in the severely frail category. Further risk assessments were carried out including one the day before he fell, which indicated he was at a medium risk of falling.

Senior Counsel Patrick Treacy said for patients considered to be at a medium risk of falling a care plan should be commenced and an information leaflet given to the patient.

It was their case there was no evidence of any such care plan being put in place nor of any information being given to Mr Gaule.

Physiotherapy reviews were carried out at the hospital, and it was recommended that Mr Gaule use a walking stick under supervision.

On 3 December it was advised he could walk for short distances independently but with the walking stick.

Mr Treacy said at around 5am on 4 December, Mr Gaule went to the bathroom and he had an unwitnessed fall, but he told nursing staff.

He was assessed for injuries by nursing staff, but Counsel said he was not reviewed by a doctor until 7.15am and it was noted he had fallen and hit his head against the wall and had some pain. The plan was to have two hourly neurological observation.

The court was told Mr Gaule complained at 7.55am about a headache and later about nausea and vomiting. A CT scan was performed shortly before 11am and it recorded a brain bleed.

He was pronounced dead shortly before midnight on 4 December 2020.

In a High Court action for damages, it was claimed there was an alleged failure to adequately supervise Mr Gaule when he went to the bathroom and that he had allegedly been allowed to walk without a walking stick.

It was also alleged there was a failure to request a medical review immediately after his fall and an alleged failure to adequately or competently or properly diagnose his clinical condition.

All the claims were denied, and the settlement was made without admission of liability.

The former Waterford Crystal worker had featured in a documentary, ‘Broken Glass’.

The court was told his family had expected to spend many more happy years together, but he was taken from them suddenly and dramatically.

Mr Treacy told the court Mr Gaule’s family felt there had been no proper communication with them or investigation into the matter. He said they were devastated at the loss of the much-loved husband, father and grandfather.

His wife Annette Gaule, College Green, Waterford city had sued the HSE over his death. The settlement, the details of which were not made public, was made without admission of liability.

Noting the settlement and the division of the €35,000 statutory mental distress solatium, Mr Justice Paul Coffey extended his deepest sympathy to Mrs Gaule and family.

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