Girl (18) gets €5m settlement after contracting meningitis

High Court action against GPs concludes without admission of liability

An 18-year old girl who is deaf after contracting meningitis when she was a baby has secured €5m in settlement of her High Court action. The settlement was made without admission of liability.

Counsel for Laura Kavanagh told Ms Justice Mary Irvine his side's experts would, had the case proceeded,  have argued that if Ms Kavanagh was admitted early to hospital when she became ill at thirteen months old, it would be expected she would not have developed meningitis.

Bruce Antoniotti SC said Laura communicates through sign language and some lip reading and has a moderate intellectual disability.

Ms Kavanagh, Mountainview Drive, Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow had sued Dr Paul Crean and Dr Frank Malone who have a surgery at Whitfield, Church Road, Greystones, Co Wicklow.

It was alleged there was failure to ensure proper care and continuity of care for the plaintiff and a failure to attend her in good time particularly in view of the known symptoms and concerns expressed by Dr Malone in his telephone conversation with the baby’s mother.

It was also alleged there was a failure by Dr Crean to diagnose Laura was suffering with meningitis or alternatively failure to attach due weight or concern to the baby’s condition and symptoms.

The claims were denied.

Outlining the claim, Mr Antoniotti said Laura had developed normally as a baby. On January 29th, 1998, when aged 13 months, Laura was ill with a high temperature and was lethargic and had severe fatigue.

Her mother Simone Kavanagh rang Dr Malone who asked the mother if the baby had a rash and to watch out for it, counsel said. When her daughter’s condition worsened, Ms Kavanagh rang the practice again and spoke to Dr Crean.

Counsel said the doctor was told of the child’s high temperature and light appeared to be hurting her eyes. The doctor, having asked Ms Malone had she transport and she replying no, agreed to come to the house when he had finished surgery.

Three and a half hours after the call, Dr Crean came to the Kavanagh home and diagnosed a bowel infection and left two suppositories, counsel said. The child slept the next day when Mrs Kavanagh rang the practice again and was told it would be at least three hours before a doctor could see her.

The mother later thought her child had improved and rang the practice to convey that and the call out was cancelled, counsel said. “That was her lay opinion of the situation. The mother has been blaming herself ever since,” counsel said.

On January 31st,Laura was no better and had a high pitch scream and the mother thought of meningitis, counsel said. A doctor on call at the defendants’ practice had the child admitted to hospital immediately where it was found the child she had severe meningitis and was critically ill.

Counsel said experts on his side would say if Laura was admitted earlier to hospital, it would be expected she would not have developed meningitis.

Ms Justice Mary Irvine approved the settlement. Laura’s mother told the judge the family had “been in hell and back”. “When Laura became sick, a part of me died. We can’t have a conversation. I thought it was a bowel infection,” she said.