15-year legal battle secures £4 million settlement for brain damaged teen

A 16-year-old girl who suffered severely impaired hearing and brain damage after developing pneumococcal meningitis, when just 13-months-old, has been awarded £4 million in damages.

The girl, who cannot be named but is referred to as FB in legal documents, suffered the injuries in September 2003 after a doctor in the A&E department at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow breached her duty of care to the child.

The settlement, which was approved on 24 May, marks the last instalment in what has been an arduous 15-year litigious battle. The final verdict was only reached after the Court of Appeal overturned an earlier judgment that had dismissed an initial claim, that deficient treatment at Princess Alexandra Hospital had amounted to a negligent breach of duty.

The tragic events initially 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, FB’s symptoms persisted and just over a week later, her mother became increasingly concerned and sought medical advice.

As it was the weekend, she contacted the out-of-hours GP service and was first advised to continue with the same 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 Princess Alexandra Hospital in the early hours of Monday morning.

Examination by an A&E doctor began around half an hour after arrival and FB 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 her mother had telephoned for an ambulance, or that FB had been brought into hospital by paramedics.

The next day FB’s condition worsened and, after a GP examination, an ambulance was called to return her to hospital. Two days later, she was transferred from Harlow to 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 later pursued legal action that was heard in 2015 when, as regards the A&E doctor’s failure to elicit from FB’s parents a full history of her symptoms prior to examination, the Judge concluded that the doctor’s practice had not been substandard. However, Madeline Seibert was convinced the judgment was unsound and prepared a strong case for appeal.

And the Court of Appeal’s judgment in May 2017 found that if the A&E doctor had been armed with all of 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 24 May 2019, The Honourable Mrs Justice Lambert approved a settlement of £4 million.

Following court approval of the settlement, FB’s mother issued the following statement:
 
“This settlement has been the result of a gruelling 15-year battle for justice. 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.

“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.”

Head of Medical Negligence, Madeline Seibert, who represented the family, added:
 
“FB is a wonderful girl; it has 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.

“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.”
 

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