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Failure to Timely Diagnose and Treat Meningitis Leads to Brain Injury

A Philadelphia jury recently awarded an 11 month old baby and his mother $10.14 million dollars following a hospital and emergency room physician's failure to timely diagnose the child with meningitis.

Bacterial meningitis is a very serious and potentially deadly infection that generally strikes young children. Death can occur in as little as a few hours following the onset of the infection, and therefore, prompt diagnosis and treatment is essential. Several different types of bacteria are known to cause meningitis, including Streptoccocus pneumoniae, group B Streptoccocus, Neisseria meningitdis, Haemophilus influenzae and Listeria monocytogenes. About 4,100 cases of bacterial meningitis are diagnosed each year, with 500 of those resulting in death. Babies are generally considered to be at increased risk for bacterial meningitis. Meningitis symptoms include the sudden onset of fever, headache and a stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, photophobia and altered mental status. If bacterial meningitis is suspected, samples of blood or cerebrospinal fluid are collected and sent for testing.

In the Philadelphia case, the child initially presented to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia with chief complaints of breathing difficulties and a fever. Emergency room personnel diagnosed the boy with a simple upper respiratory infection and/or pneumonia and discharged him to home. The following day, the boy's mother brought him back to the same hospital with symptoms that had increased in their severity. Specifically, it was alleged that the boy's fever had gone up, he had become irritable, had developed elevated respiration and pulse rates, and was dehydrated and lethargic. Chest x-rays were ordered by the emergency room physician, which ruled out pneumonia and any upper respiratory infection. The boy was once again discharged and the mother was instructed to follow up with the boy's primary care physician.

The following day, the mother brought the boy back to the ER after his symptoms worsened over night. Following examination, he received a diagnosis of pneumonia or possible bacterial infection. Nearly 6 hours later, he underwent a lumbar puncture, which revealed bacterial meningitis. As a result of the nearly 50 hours in diagnosis and treatment, the boy, now 6, suffers from severe brain damage and profound hearing loss. The mother, on behalf of her son, sued both the hospital and emergency room physician for medical negligence stemming from their failure to timely diagnose and treat meningitis. The jury awarded the $10 million in damages, apportioning the fault at 60% on the part of the hospital and 40% on the part of the emergency room physician.

At STSW, our lawyers have handled a number of cases involving the failure to timely diagnose and treat many illnesses, including meningitis. If you or a loved one believe a health care provider failed to timely diagnose you with a serious illness that has led to major injuries, call our team for a free consultation.

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