DHB sued after baby Bella's death

By Kiri Gillespie

A former Tauranga couple is taking the rare step of suing the Bay of Plenty District Health Board for mental damages following the death of their baby girl six years ago.

Tony Hodder and Shelley Powell launched the lawsuit after doctors at Tauranga Hospital were found at fault for not picking up on a rare blood disease that eventually killed their 8-week-old baby, Bella. The couple's lawyer John Miller said the case was not common because ACC covered most injury cases "and this is even more unusual that they are going to trial".

"Usually these sorts of cases get settled before they go to court."

Mr Miller said he had confidence in the case because the Health and Disability Commissioner had already proven the hospital to be at fault. In 2008 inquests held by the commissioner and Coroner's Court released damning findings into the lack of care baby Bella received.

Mr Hodder and Ms Powell have returned after four years in Australia to attend the trial against the board in the High Court at Tauranga on July 1.

In response to claims made by the couple, the board says it offered support and sympathy at the time and denies claims it tried to "sweep the matter under the carpet".

Mr Hodder said the trial had been a long time coming.

"It's like a dark cloud that hangs over us. We just want it to come to an end."

Baby Bella was the only child the couple had together.

"We've had no closure. We'd always said when this is over we should do her unveiling."

Mr Hodder said the time leading up to Bella's birth, and death, were the "best years of our lives".

"I don't think I will ever be that man again. I just don't feel. I don't feel anything," he said.

"We've tried to move on. We've tried to put the case to one side and try to deal with life but it hasn't let us."

Mr Hodder used to set up and run bars while Ms Powell had just qualified in child care when Bella died. Neither have returned to their careers but Mr Hodder has sometimes worked as a cleaner.

"Everyone's like 'sorry for your loss' but that's all you get," he said.

"We couldn't even get counselling through ACC because no physical damages happened to me or Shelley. So we had no counselling. They said we fell in a 3 per cent category of what happens to people who slip through the cracks."

A letter of condolence was sent from the hospital in the week of Bella's death but the only apology the couple received from the board was in a letter after it was ordered to apologise in the HDC findings, Mr Hodder said.

Board spokeswoman Diana Marriot said it was not driving the court process and rebutted any suggestion it had contributed to the delays referred to by Mr Hodder.

"The DHB ... has always been prepared to have the claims made by the plaintiffs heard in court which is open to the public and therefore rebuts any suggestion that it has tried to sweep this under the carpet."

An ACC spokeswoman said it provided cover for mental injury in specific situations, including mental injury caused by a physical injury, mental injury caused by direct exposure to a sudden traumatic event during the course of employment or mental injury caused by certain criminal acts.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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