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Meningitis Victim's Future Secured After Successful Negotiation

Medical negligence can be very hard to prove, but that does not deter expert lawyers from fighting their clients' corners to a successful conclusion. In one case, a 15-year-old girl who was struck down by meningitis when she was a baby was guaranteed very substantial compensation from the NHS.

The girl was just 15 months old when her mother took her to a hospital accident and emergency department. She was lethargic and had vomited repeatedly. She was reviewed by a doctor three times over a period of three and a half hours, and was given liquids to see if she was able to keep them down. She was eventually discharged with a diagnosis of viral gastroenteritis.

She was in fact suffering from meningococcal meningitis. She was readmitted to the hospital the following day, but suffered serious brain damage and hearing loss. She has no sense of danger, cannot be left alone and will always need one-to-one care, day and night. She is estimated to function intellectually at the level of a six- or seven-year-old.

Proceedings were launched on the girl's behalf, arguing that the doctor concerned had been negligent and that, had she been admitted on her earlier visit to A&E and given appropriate treatment, she would have made a good recovery. However, the NHS trust that ran the hospital denied liability for her injuries.

The trust asserted that the doctor had acted competently and reasonably throughout. The early symptoms of meningitis are notoriously hard to distinguish from those of common, much less serious viruses and the girl had been carefully examined and reviewed. The trust also argued that earlier diagnosis and treatment of her condition would have made little or no difference to the outcome.

Following negotiations, however, the trust agreed to pay 50 per cent of the full value of her damages claim without making any admission of liability. Approving the compromise, the High Court noted that it was a finely balanced case, replete with litigation risks. The settlement of liability issues represented a good and sensible outcome for the teenager and ensured that she will receive very substantial compensation in due course.