GRASSE, France (AFP) - Two French families whose babies were switched at birth more than 20 years ago won nearly two million euros (S$3 million) in compensation on Tuesday.
A court in the southern town of Grasse ordered the clinic at the centre of the mix-up in the French Riviera city of Cannes to pay 1.88 million euros, six times less than the families had called for.
The clinic was ordered to pay 400,000 euros to each of the swapped babies – who are now adult women – and 300,000 euros to three parents concerned and 60,000 euros to three siblings.
However, the court threw out a suit against doctors and obstetricians also brought by the family.
One of the mothers, Sophie Serrano, 38, voiced her joy and “relief” at the decision.
“Finally, after so many years, the error has been recognised. Now, I’m cleared of everything. I’ve no reason any more to feel guilty for anything,” Serrano told French television channel iTele.
Gilbert Collard, a lawyer for one of the families, said they were “completely satisfied with the decision” and there was no question of an appeal.
The story began on July 4, 1994, when Sophie Serrano gave birth to little Manon at a clinic in Cannes.
The baby suffered from jaundice and doctors put her in an incubator equipped with lights to treat the problem along with another affected newborn girl.
An auxiliary nurse unwittingly switched them and although both mothers immediately expressed doubt about the babies, pointing to their different hair lengths, they were sent home anyway.
Ten years later, troubled by the fact his daughter bore no resemblance to him with her darker skin, Manon’s father did a paternity test that revealed he was not her biological parent.
Sophie Serrano then discovered she was not Manon’s mother either, prompting a probe to try to find the other family who had been handed their biological daughter.
The investigation revealed that at the time of the births in 1994, three newborns suffered from jaundice – the two girls and a boy – and the clinic only had two incubators with the special lights.
The girls were therefore put together in one incubator.
The two sets of parents met their biological daughters for the first time when they were both 10 years old, but did not ask that they be switched back.
The two families have distanced themselves from each other since the meeting 10 years ago.
“It was a pretty disturbing moment,” said Manon after a closed-door hearing in December.
“You find yourself in front of a woman who is biologically your mother but who is a stranger.”
Sophie Serrano said in December: “It’s too difficult, so we each went our separate ways as it’s so distressing.”
“It was the only way to find some stability again.”
She did not respond to requests for interviews after the judgment.
While Sophie and Manon have been willing to discuss the case with media, the other family has preferred to keep a low profile.
The lawyers’ office representing the clinic noted the “significant difference” between the amount requested and the sum the court demanded, acknowledging nevertheless that the damages awarded were “high”.
The lawyers said they were waiting for the details of the judgement before considering a possible appeal.
Sophie said in December she had hoped to win “recognition” for the case, “so as to free us from all this guilt about not having been able to protect your kid, not having insisted when we saw there was a problem.”