Evie Toombes just won a landmark case after claiming her mother’s doctor didn’t properly advise her during her pregnancy. She suffers from spina bifida and sometimes spends 24 hours a day connected to tubes. Toombes argued that if her mother’s doctor had done his job, she never would’ve been born at all.
“Born in a Damaged State”
Toombes, 20, is a star horse jumper that’s been competing against fully able and disabled athletes for years. She filed the landmark wrongful conception case against Dr. Philip Mitchell for failing to advise her mother to take folic acid supplements when she was pregnant with Evie to minimize the chance of her developing spina bifida.
According to the suit, Toombes believes that if Mitchell had told her mother to take folic acid before getting pregnant, her mother would have put off having a child all together, which would’ve meant that Evie never would’ve been born.
As it turns out, Judge Rosalind Coe of London’s High Court, agreed with Evie’s assessment. The judge backed her case and awarded her a large financial payout. Her lawyers haven’t confirmed the total amount but said it was “big”, considering it would be enough for Evie to pay for care for the rest of her life.
The judge found that Mitchell failed to inform Evie’s mother Caroline of the importance of taking folic acid supplements before getting pregnant. If he had provided this information, Caroline would’ve waited to make sure she delivered a healthy baby girl, the judge added.
The court heard testimony of how Caroline went to see Mitchell in 2001 when she was first thinking of having a baby.
“This was a very precious decision to start a family because she herself had lost her parents when she was young,” Evie’s barrister Susan Rodway told the court. “They had been refraining from sexual intercourse until after they had received advice at this consultation.”
Caroline added that she discussed taking folic acid supplements with Mitchell, but he didn’t tell her it can help prevent spina bifida during pregnancy. She said the doctor told her to go home and have “lots of sex,” which she found “somewhat blunt.”
“He told me it was not necessary,” Caroline said. “I was advised that if I had a good diet previously, I would not have to take folic acid.”
Rodway added that Caroline would’ve delayed getting pregnant if she was aware of the importance of folic acid, so she could start taking the supplement before having a family.
“It is her evidence that she would have read up on it and wouldn’t have attempted to become pregnant until she was satisfied that she had protected herself as much as possible,” Rodway said.
Living with the Consequences
Evie was diagnosed with a lipomyelomeningocele (LMM), a form of neural tube defect to the spine leading to permanent disability, just after being born in 2001.
She has very limited mobility and will increasingly rely on a wheelchair as she gets older. The court also heard that she suffers from regular bladder and bowel pain as a result of her condition.
Michael De Navarro represented Mitchell in court. He denied liability by saying Caroline might have already been pregnant when she went to Mitchell for a consultation. He told the judge that Mitchell gave “reasonable advice” about the importance of taking folic acid.
De Navarro added that it was standard for Mitchell to tell prospective parents to take 400 micrograms when preparing for pregnancy and throughout the first trimester. He said that if Caroline had a better diet with naturally higher levels of folic acid before having a child, these supplements wouldn’t have been as important in preventing spina bifida.
But the judge wasn’t buying it.
“In the circumstances, I find that Mrs. Toombes was not pregnant at the time of the consultation with Dr. Mitchell,” said Coe in her ruling.
“She was not advised in accordance with the guidance to take folic acid prior to conception and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. She was not advised about the relationship between folic acid supplementation and the prevention of spina bifida/neural tube defects. Had she been provided with the correct recommended advice, she would have delayed attempts to conceive. In the circumstances, there would have been a later conception, which would have resulted in a normal healthy child. I, therefore, find that the claimant’s claim succeeds on liability.”
Toombes continues to be a national figure in the world of horse jumping. Her personal website features her motto: “Find a way, not an excuse.”
In addition to competing, she teaches children about invisible illnesses and works at Nottingham University. “I was born with a form of spina bifida … but having a passion in life gives me purpose and direction,” she wrote online.