A showjumper with spina bifida has sued her mother’s GP for millions in damages, claiming she should have never been born.
Evie Toombes, from Lincolnshire, was born with the disorder in which the bones of the spine do not close properly around the spinal cord.
The 20-year-old has said she aims to compete in the Paralympics in the future despite the condition often resulting in her being connected to tubes 24 hours a day.
In a landmark High Court case, Ms Toombes is suing Dr Philip Mitchell in a “wrongful conception” damages claim over his alleged failure to advise her mother to take vital supplements before getting pregnant.
In the lawsuit, Ms Toombes claims that her mother would have put off having a baby had Dr Mitchell told her she needed to take folic acid supplements to minimise the risk of spina bifida affecting her baby.
The 20-year-old said that as a result, she never would have been born at all.
Her barrister, Susan Rodway QC, told the judge that she was suing for “having been born in a damaged state” and that she wanted millions in damages to cover the increased cost of living a disabled life.
Dr Mitchell, who was working at the Hawthorn Medical Practice in Skegness at the time, “comprehensively denies” liability and claims he gave Mrs Toombes “reasonable advice”.
Medics routinely advise prospective mothers of the benefits of taking folic acid supplements before conceiving and throughout the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy to ward off the risk of spina bifida.
Precious decision to start a family
The court heard that Caroline Toombes, who is also a keen horse rider, had gone to see Dr Mitchell to discuss her plans to have her first baby in February 2001.
“This was a very precious decision to start a family, because she herself had lost her parents when she was young,” Mrs Rodway told the judge.
However, Mrs Toombes claims that despite having a discussion about folic acid during the consultation, Dr Mitchell did not tell her of its importance in preventing spina bifida.
“He told me it was not necessary,” she told the judge. “I was advised that if I had a good diet previously, I would not have to take folic acid.”
Mrs Rodway said that, had Mrs Toombes been properly advised by Dr Mitchell, she would not have gone on to conceive as quickly as she did.
She claims that Mrs Toombes would have paused her pregnancy plans, started a course of folic acid treatment and then attempted to conceive.
“It is her evidence 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,” she said.
If she had indeed put off getting pregnant, she would have had a “normal, healthy” baby, but one who was a “genetically different person” to Evie Toombes, the QC added.
After her birth in November 2001, Evie Toombes was diagnosed with a lipomyelomeningocele, a form of neural tube defect to the spine leading to permanent disability.
Her mobility is said to be “very limited” and she will depend more and more on a wheelchair as she grows older, while she also suffers with bowel and bladder problems, the court heard.
Doctor says he gave ‘reasonable advice’
Dr Mitchell’s lawyer told the judge that he gave “reasonable advice” about the desirability of folic acid supplements being taken prior to pregnancy.
The court heard that it was his usual practice to tell prospective parents that 400 micrograms should be taken by those preparing for pregnancy and throughout their first trimester once pregnant.
The lawyer added that the doctor would have said that if the mother had a good diet and therefore good folic acid levels anyway, supplements would be less important, but he denied saying they were not necessary.
Judgment has been reserved and will be given at a later date.
According to her own website, Ms Toombes describes her motto in life as: “Find a way, not an excuse.”
She writes: “I was born with a form of spina bifida ... but having a passion in life gives me purpose and direction.”
In 2018, she met the Duke and Duchess of Sussex when she won the Inspiration Young Person Award at a Wellchild charity event.