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Widow to Receive Compensation for the Failure to Diagnose Meningitis after Hearing

A widow, who was told her husband was suffering from constipation, is to receive compensation for the failure to diagnose meningitis following his death.

On 26th May 2010, Philip Morrissey (39) from Kilkenny attended his GP complaining of a high temperature, a headache and earache. He was referred to the Accident & Emergency department of St Luke´s Hospital in Kilkenny, where he was admitted with a high pulse rate and complaining of an intolerance to light.

Six hours after being admitted, Philip appeared to his wife – Gail – to be disorientated and drowsy. She raised her concerns with medical staff and was told that his condition was attributable to constipation. However, the following morning Philip was found slumped in his bed having suffered a cardiac arrest. His cardiac arrest was later identified as having been triggered by streptococcal pneumonia meningitis.

After seeking legal advice, Gail claimed compensation for the failure to diagnose meningitis against the Health Service Executive (HSE). She alleged that Philip had not been seen by a doctor since 3:40pm on the day prior to his death, and that there had been a failure to consider his symptoms attributable to meningitis, to correctly diagnose his condition and treat it.

Following an investigation into the circumstances of Philip´s death, the HSE admitted liability and a settlement of Gail´s claim was negotiated amounting to €455,000. Due to the nature of Philip´s death, the settlement of compensation for the failure to diagnose meningitis had to be approved, and consequently the case was presented to Mr Justice Michael Hanna at the High Court.

After the judge heard the circumstances of Philip´s death, a statement was read out to the family by a representative of the HSE apologising for the standard of care Philip had received. Judge Hanna then approved the settlement of compensation for the failure to diagnose meningitis – commenting that a “huge tragedy” had befallen the family and, while money could never compensate for Philip´s loss, it was the best the law could do.

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Award of High Court Compensation for Cerebral Palsy Upheld on Appeal

An award of High Court compensation for cerebral palsy has been upheld on appeal, but the case may still have to go before the Supreme Court to be resolved.

On 12th July 2006, Gill Russell from Aghada in County Cork was born suffering from dyskinetic cerebral palsy following a “prolonged and totally chaotic” delivery at the Erinville Hospital. On her son´s behalf, Karen Russell made a medical negligence compensation claim against the Health Service Executive (HSE) and, after liability had been admitted, Gill was awarded an interim settlement of High Court compensation for cerebral palsy.

In December 2014, the medical negligence compensation claim against the HSE was resolved €13.5 million – the largest ever award of High Court compensation for cerebral palsy. The HSE appealed the settlement of the claim – arguing that Mr Justice Kevin Cross had used a lower rate of interest than was traditionally used in Irish courts to calculate the return to investment of the lump sum.

However, earlier this week at the Appeals Court, a three-judge panel upheld the settlement of High Court compensation for cerebral palsy. The judges said that using the higher rate of interest would result in a catastrophically injured person having to take “unjust and unacceptable” risks with the investment of the lump sum to ensure their financial security.

One of the three-judge panel – Ms Justice Mary Irvine – said it was not the courts´ function to decide how a claimant was likely to invest their award for the purposes of determining its value. She added that the Russell family and the HSE would not be in this position had the government not failed to introduce legislation that would permit structured periodic payments.

The decision of the Appeal Court judges is unlikely to resolve the medical negligence compensation claim against the HSE. Warning that the calculation of High Court compensation for cerebral palsy set a precedent that could cost the State Claims Agency and the insurance industry up to €10 billion over the next decade, the HSE has indicated that it will take the case to the Supreme Court.

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Judge Increases Award made by Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal

A High Court judge has increased an award made by the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal after hearing an appeal from a woman who developed encephalopathy.

The unnamed plaintiff was one of thousands of women who in 1977 were given an anti-D immunoglobulin blood transfusion infected with Hepatitis C. In 1998, the plaintiff had been awarded €298,000 by the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal, but she had returned to the Tribunal earlier this year, seeking more compensation after developing “life destroying” side effects of brain damage and cirrhosis of the liver.

The Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal awarded the plaintiff a further €180,000 but, on the basis that a previous case had been settled for €250,000 after a woman had developed similar injuries, the plaintiff appealed the decision to the High Court. The Minister for Health opposed the plaintiff´s appeal on the grounds that the case was different to the one in which the higher award was made.

The Minister of Health argued that the plaintiff received treatment for Hepatitis C before her condition was diagnosed. However, at the High Court, Mr Justice Bernard Barton heard that the plaintiff´s “decompensated cirrhosis” had been triggered by the ribavirin therapy she had undergone in 2013 to treat the Hepatitis C virus after tests revealed a serious deterioration of her liver.

The judge also heard that the plaintiff had developed encephalopathy as a result of her treatment – a side effect which manifests as slurred speech and forgetfulness, and which is irreversible and requires ongoing medical treatment to control its effects. The encephalopathy condition had resulted in severe mental anguish it was claimed.

Judge Barton found in the plaintiff´s favour – saying that the High Court had the jurisdiction to compensate the woman for the pain and suffering arising out of the treatment she underwent in 2013. The judge said that it was “only fair and reasonable” that the award by the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal be increased to €250,000 to reflect the full and independent life that the plaintiff could no longer lead.

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