According to Spanish news outlet El País, José Sáez-Morga, the lawyer leading the case, said the woman came to his firm about three years ago, when she was 16, with the plea: “Tell me who I am.”
El País reported that the woman wound up in a “troubled family environment” and was raised by a grandmother. Local news outlet La Rioja, which first reported on the case, described her life as being “immersed in a situation of risk since 2003.”
When the father refused to pay child support, the grandmother filed a complaint. A court-ordered DNA test revealed that the man was not genetically tied to the woman. Her supposed mother wasn’t either, El País reported.
She demanded that the health department notify her of the identity of her biological parents. The department said it was incapable, technically and legally, to answer those questions without an investigation.
A subsequent probe by regional health inspectors found that 17 babies were born at the hospital within a similar time frame. Further investigation — deducting male babies and babies who never went into the incubator room and using other medical data — narrowed the list down to one child. That child and the woman had similar weights and compatible blood types and were in incubators next to each other: Cradles 6 and 7. It was during their transfer back to their cribs where a swap apparently was made.
La Rioja reported that the woman is waiting for a conclusive test from her probable biological father. Her supposed mother died in 2018, the outlet reported.
Though babies being switched at birth is uncommon, it does happen. Two babies went home with the wrong families in 1951, and one of the mothers, even after realizing the mistake, kept quiet for 40 years, “This American Life” reported. In India, tests found that two toddler boys had been switched at birth — but the toddlers refused to leave their parents. Instead, the families are keeping the swapped babies and have been working out how to meet regularly and become friends, the BBC reported in 2018.
In France, two families whose babies were switched at birth in 1994 won a total of over $2 million in compensation from the Cannes clinic that made the error: $450,000 for each of the women swapped, $340,000 for three parents and $68,000 for three siblings. The families were seeking six times that amount.
Though lawyers at Sáez-Morga’s firm have ruled out an intentional swap, they assume that a minimum amount of diligence could have prevented the mistake, according to La Rioja. The law firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The case “took place nearly 20 years ago,” Sara Alba, head of the regional health department, said in a statement provided to The Washington Post by department spokeswoman Sandra Carmona Requena. Alba said the regional health department is “committed to settle the claim for damages” according to, and with “full respect” for, the appropriate legal proceedings.
“Relevant investigation carried out concluded that the mistake was attributed to a ‘human error,’ ” Alba said. “However, it cannot be proven who made the accidental switch since the systems were not so up-to-date 20 years ago.”
Alba said that thanks to current procedures, “it would be virtually impossible something like this happen again,” she said.
She said identification systems have progressed over the years. In 2002, a token with a fingerprint was used for identification, later changed to a footprint. Currently, identification is done with an umbilical-cord blood sample, she said.
Instead of 3 million euros, the health department has proposed 215,000 euros in compensation, El País reported.