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Families of two daughters swapped at birth 20 years ago seek compensation from French hospital

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It's a plotline you would expect to see in a film or novel. But sadly it's entirely true. Two families are currently battling a maternity clinic in Cannes where their newborn baby daughters were mistakenly swapped and returned to the wrong mother, 20 years ago.

The incident took place in July 1994, where the two newborns were placed in the same cot at the hospital because they were both being treated for jaundice. They were then returned by staff to the wrong parents and the mistake only emerged seven years later. 

The mistake was revealed when the girls were 10, after the father of one daughter, Manon Serrano, 20, (pictured above right) accused mother Sophie, 38, (pictured above left) of being unfaithful as Manon had darker skin. He demanded a paternity test (after leaving the family when Manon was three years old), which revealed he was not the young girl's father and that Sophie was not the mother.

The Cannes clinic found in its records that Manon had been placed in the same cot as another baby girl to be treated for jaundice. The other family - who live 20 miles away from the Serranos and have asked not to be identified - was traced and their DNA tests confirmed the mistake.

Both families are in court in Grasse this week who are suing for €12m (£9.4m), including €2m (£1.57m) for each daughter. They say the insurance companies of the maternity clinic (now defunct) and heath staff involved should pay exemplary damages for their two decades of emotional suffering.

However, neither of the parents want to swap daughters and both women do not want to leave the families they had always known.

new born babies

“In 10 years, we have never had the slightest apology from [the clinic and its staff], let alone an admission of responsibility,” Sophie said. “Quite the opposite: they have always insisted that it was our fault.”

Lawyers representing the clinic and the insurance company blame the two mothers, saying they should have recognised their own daughters.

Sophie says she did complain at the time that her baby appeared darker-skinned and had longer hair, but she said the nurses insisted that the ultra-violet treatment was responsible. 

When the mistake was realised 10 years ago, the two families got in touch and met each other. They continued to meet for over a year but eventually drifted apart.

“It was disturbing and very bizarre,” said Manon. “You are confronted with a woman who is your biological mother but who is a complete stranger.”

Sophie said that meeting her real daughter for the first time was “a moment of joy and a moment of great sadness”.

“I was delighted to see that my biological daughter was loved and thriving,” she continued. “And yet I knew that I could not take her away with me. The other mother had the same sense of being torn in two... Of course, I would have loved to have had some kind of mother-daughter relationship with her but that is precisely what was stolen from me.”

The verdict of the trial is expected in February.

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