On July 31, 2012, a medical malpractice jury in Palm Beach County, Florida returned a verdict in the amount of $28.45 million against two doctors who allegedly ignored the results of a spinal tap performed on a 10-month-old infant suffering from persistent fevers in 2006 that indicated that the infant had meningitis. Prompt treatment with antibiotics would have successfully treated the infant, according to the plaintiffs’ medical experts. Instead, the infant suffered a stroke that destroyed three of the five lobes in the left side of his brain.
The now almost-7-year-old boy has the mental capacity of an 18-month-old and will probably remain at that level for the rest of his life. He is unable to talk and must wear diapers. His behavioral disabilities include punching and banging his head against the wall.
What Is Meningitis?
Meningitis is a bacterial infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (meninges). The most common causes of meningitis are viral infections that usually get better without treatment. Most viral meningitis is due to enteroviruses, which are viruses that also can cause intestinal illness. However, bacterial meningitis infections are extremely serious, and may result in death or brain damage, even if treated.
Acute bacterial meningitis is a medical emergency, and requires immediate treatment in a hospital. Viral meningitis is milder and occurs more often than bacterial meningitis. It usually develops in the late summer and early fall, and often affects children and adults under age 30. Most infections occur in children under age 5.
For any patient who is suspected of having meningitis, it is important to perform a lumbar puncture (a spinal tap), in which spinal fluid (known as cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF) is collected for testing. Doctors prescribe antibiotics for bacterial meningitis. The type will vary depending on the bacteria causing the infection. Antibiotics are not effective in viral meningitis.
Early diagnosis and treatment of bacterial meningitis is essential to prevent permanent neurological damage. Viral meningitis is usually not serious, and symptoms should disappear within 2 weeks with no lasting complications.
The Florida medical malpractice jury determined one of the doctors to be 75% responsible for the infant’s injuries and the other doctor to be 25% responsible. Because the more responsible doctor had no medical malpractice insurance, she will be responsible for only $250,000 of the verdict. The Florida cap on non-economic damages enacted in 2003, which is presently being challenged on constitutional grounds in Florida’s highest appellate court, will reduce the $12 million awarded by the medical malpractice jury for non-economic damages to $1 million.
The lawyer for one of the medical malpractice defendants stated that an appeal will be filed and chastised the jury for its failure to understand complex medical issues and basing it decision on sympathy and not the evidence. He also alleged that his client had treated the infant for meningitis and that the infant’s stroke was a “surprise.” He indicated his distrust of juries in medical malpractice cases in general and he believes that the laws should be changed so that only doctors will be allowed to judge the actions of other doctors.
If you or a loved one were injured as a result of medical malpractice in Florida or in another state in the United States, you should promptly seek the advice of a local medical malpractice attorney.
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