Girl who suffered brain damage after Princess Alexandra Hospital doctor misdiagnosed her meningitis 15 years ago gets £4m damages
A family's 15-year legal battle ended on Friday (May 24) when a girl who was left with brain damage and severely impaired hearing after developing meningitis as a baby was awarded £4m in damages.
The 16-year-old – who cannot be named but is referred to as FB in legal documents – suffered the injuries in September 2003 as a 13-month-old baby after a doctor in the accident and emergency (A&E) department at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow breached her duty of care to the child.
The final settlement was reached only after the Court of Appeal overturned an earlier judgment that had dismissed an initial claim that deficient treatment at PAH had amounted to a negligent breach of duty.
The tragic events unfolded after FB became ill in September 2003. Thinking she might be teething or have some minor childhood ailment, her young mother administered Calpol and hoped any illness would pass. However, the symptoms persisted, and just over a week later, her increasingly concerned mum sought medical advice.
As it was the weekend, she contacted the out-of-hours GP service and was advised to continue with the course of treatment. However, after FB began vomiting and then appeared to begin fitting, paramedics were sent and she was taken as an emergency by ambulance to the A&E department at PAH in the early hours of the Monday.
An A&E doctor started examination about 30 minutes after FB arrived. She was diagnosed with an upper respiratory tract infection and discharged.
However, contrary to normal practice, the ambulance, paramedic and triage notes were not with the A&E front sheet given to the doctor when she made her assessment, and the doctor failed to record that FB's mother had phoned for an ambulance or that the baby had been brought into hospital by paramedics.
The next day, FB’s condition worsened. After a GP examination, an ambulance was called to return her to hospital. Two days later, she was transferred from Harlow to London's Great Ormond Street Hospital, where she was diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis and multiple brain infarcts. The latter resulted in permanent brain damage, learning difficulties and profound deafness.
FB’s mother pursued legal action that was heard in 2015. A judge ruled that the A&E doctor’s failure to elicit from FB’s parents a full history of her symptoms prior to examination had not been substandard.
However, expert medical negligence lawyer Madeline Seibert, from Herts and Essex solicitors Attwaters Jameson Hill, was convinced the judgment was unsound and appealed.
In May 2017, the Court of Appeal found that if the A&E doctor had been armed with all the relevant information relating to FB’s admission, she would have noted it and referred the child to a paediatrician. This would have resulted in a more immediate diagnosis of pneumococcal meningitis and prompt administration of antibiotics to treat the illness.
At the Royal Courts of Justice in London on Friday, Mrs Justice Lambert approved a settlement of £4m.
'I do not view the outcome as any kind of victory or financial windfall to us'
Afterwards, FB’s mother said: “This settlement has been the result of a gruelling 15-year battle for justice.
“However, while I am certainly relieved that the settlement will now provide my lovely daughter with financial security, I do not view the outcome as any kind of victory.
"The money that has been secured today will be managed tightly by the Court of Protection in order to cater for my daughter’s future needs and care.
"The settlement will have to last our daughter for the rest of her life and certainly does not represent any kind of financial windfall to us.
"I would like to express our sincere thanks and gratitude for the support we have received from the legal team at Attwaters Jameson Hill, and pay tribute to the determination and perseverance shown by our solicitor, Madeline Seibert, during this long struggle."
'A very difficult case and at times an emotional battle'
Ms Seibert said: “History-taking is essential to A&E doctors’ decisions on treatment. The doctor should have ascertained that FB had been brought in by ambulance and asked her parents about the symptoms that led to such action at four o’clock in the morning.
"The parents had acted correctly in seeking out-of-hours medical advice and reacting to worsening symptoms, and they might reasonably have assumed that the paramedic notes had been passed to the doctor conducting the examination."
She added: “FB is a wonderful girl. It's been a very difficult case and at times an emotional battle to secure justice and the much-needed funds that will provide her with the financial security that she would not have otherwise had by reason of her injuries.
"The family has had to endure a 15-year legal ordeal, but, while challenging a court judgment is certainly daunting, this case vividly demonstrates how perseverance can ultimately achieve a fair result.