Our firm resolved a case involving a preschooler who presented at the emergency room with symptoms of meningitis and whose condition went undiagnosed. Meningitis is a serious infection of the tissue lining the brain that can cause severe brain damage, paralysis, and often death.
The girl’s parents contacted us after their daughter was diagnosed with a brain injury following a series of MRIs and CT scans that had been ordered by her neurologist. The events leading up to this moment were, as with many of our clients’ injuries, entirely avoidable had proper medical care been given.
Medical Errors That Changed the Girl’s Life Forever
The problem began when a young girl began running a low-grade fever at preschool. The teachers called her parents who picked her up and brought her home. That evening, after her pediatrician’s office had closed for the day, the girl’s fever began to spike, and the parents brought her to the emergency room.
The medical errors in her care began as soon as her mother and father brought her to the emergency department. When they arrived at the ER, they were shuffled among waiting rooms, and waited for hours to see a doctor. During this time the child continued to feel worse. Finally, after waiting for more than three hours, a doctor examined the child.
Doctor Spent Less Than Three Minutes Examining the Child
To the parents' shock, the doctor spent less than three minutes with them. He told the parents that their daughter just had a virus that was going around and that she would be fine in a few days. The parents insisted that it wasn’t just a normal virus and that she had never acted this sick before. The doctor told them that they were wrong and that he knew what he was doing. After a somewhat heated exchange, the doctor left. The family wasn’t sure what to do so they followed the doctor’s instruction, and they took their daughter home to rest.
Seizures Began the Following Morning
The next morning the parents awoke to their daughter having a seizure. They called 911, and the paramedics took their daughter back to the emergency department. At the hospital, she was stabilized, and a new physician ordered a series of films to determine what was going on. They also ordered a lumbar puncture to test her cerebral spinal fluid because they suspected she might have meningitis.
The tests confirmed that the child had meningitis. Treatment was started immediately to reduce the swelling in her brain and to fight the infection.
Unfortunately, permanent damage had already been done to her brain due to the massive amount of swelling and tissue destruction from the infection. She was left without sight in her left eye and with partial paralysis of her left arm. She also suffers from delayed and impeded speech.
If she had received timely and appropriate treatment during that first visit to the ER, these injuries would not have occurred.
Why Did This Medical Misdiagnosis Occur?
Overworked hospital employees at an understaffed hospital is probably the simplest explanation for why this young girl’s meningitis was undiagnosed and untreated during her first visit to the hospital.
When our clients arrived at the ER, their daughter had clear signs of an infection. She was lethargic and had a high fever. The rapidity of the onset of her symptoms should have suggested that this was not a run-of-the-mill seasonal type of viral infection.
But No Testing Was Done for Meningitis
During her first ER visit, the child was not tested for meningitis even though there had been several children diagnosed that year in her age group and even though the test is relatively easy and non-invasive. She had many symptoms of meningitis, but the doctors and nurses did not test her for this dangerous condition.
Incredibly, her medical records from that first visit documented that she had a differential diagnosis of meningitis, yet nothing was done. She fell through the cracks and will pay the price for the rest of her life.
Our Medical Malpractice Attorneys Made a Compelling Case
Our team of attorneys and experts—including a neurologist, emergency medicine physicians, emergency department nurses, and pediatric neurologist-radiologists—were able to outline clear malpractice on behalf of the entire medical team that saw her during the first ER visit.
There were multiple errors in the manner in which the nurses and doctors communicated, or failed to communicate, with each other that led to this disaster. All of the safeguards that should have been put in place to prevent such a situation failed due to sloppy charting and rushed treatment.
We also discovered that the nursing staff had previously complained about this particular physician on several occasions to the emergency department director, but nothing had been done. Several of these complaints by the nurses involved the physician not spending enough time with patients and not reading the nurses’ notes. They had requested that this doctor be retrained on the emergency department protocols and reprimanded for belittling and yelling at the nursing staff when they questioned him. It was a toxic environment of intimidation that was a recipe for disaster.
Settlement Sets Child Up for Success and Protects Future Patients
After filing a lawsuit and litigating the case for over a year, we were successful in obtaining a large settlement for our client.
Among other things, this money has provided her with the necessary intense physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy to continue to improve her abilities lost by this virus. These therapies were above and beyond what she received from the First Steps early intervention system. Additionally, the settlement money allowed her to have a private tutor at home for a year so she wouldn’t fall behind in school while she was recovering from her illness.
The lawsuit also drove the hospital to institute new and improved protocols for patient work-ups in the emergency department which should prevent this type of communication error and rushed treatment from occurring to other patients.
Today, our client is a happy, strong little girl who is enjoying her time in grade school. She continues to struggle with her physical limitations but is making improvements every day with her therapist. She wants to be a doctor AND a lawyer when she grows up so she can help people. We have no doubt she will succeed.