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Failure to diagnose meningitis leads to medical malpractice award


Montana parents who bring a young child to the emergency room place a lot of trust in the doctors and staff. Doctors are expected to meet the standard of care of a reasonably skilled practitioner in the community. A failure to meet this standard can lead to tragic results.

Recently, in Alabama, a jury awarded $10 million to a family for a physician's alleged failure to diagnose bacterial meningitis in their 3-month-old son. According to the family's lawyers, the parents brought the infant to a local emergency room with symptoms consistent with a serious bacterial infection. He was not given any tests to rule out such an infection, however.

The following day the parents took the child to a family doctor who did a lumbar puncture and diagnosed bacterial meningitis. The boy was hospitalized and went through several surgeries. But according to the family's attorneys, the delay in diagnosis and treatment resulted in brain injury, seizure disorders and hearing loss. The child will need medical care for the rest of his life.

This case illustrates the serious damage that can result from medical malpractice. It also shows how complex these cases can be; the jury found the hospital liable after a five-week trial at which more than 20 witnesses testified.

Doctors are not perfect, nor are they expected to be. They are expected, however, to exercise a basic level of professional competence when diagnosing the cause of a patient's symptoms. When the symptoms presented appear to call for certain tests and those are not conducted, the doctor and sometimes, the hospital can be held liable for any resulting harm to the patient.

Source: The Birmingham News, "Tot's missed meningitis brings $10 million verdict against Walker Baptist Medical Center," Kent Faulk, Feb. 12, 2016

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