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Family Compensated for Wrongful Death due to Meningitis Misdiagnosis

The family of a man who died in hospital due to his meningitis being misdiagnosed by medical staff attending him have been awarded compensation for his wrongful death.

In May 2010, Philip Morrissey, aged thirty-nine, visited his GP to seek medical attention for a high temperature, a headache and a pain in his ear. After an initial medical check, the doctor referred him to the Accident and Emergency Department of Kilkenny’s St Luke’s Hospital. He was admitted to the hospital suffering from the aforementioned conditions, but also with a high pulse and an increasing intolerance to light.

Mrs Gail Morrissey raised her concerns with the attending staff that her husband was drowsy and disoriented several hours after he was initially admitted to the hospital. The staff informed her that her husband was suffering from constipation, and that she need not be concerned.

However,  Mr Morrissey was found dead in his room the morning after being admitted to hospital. A post-mortem revealed that he had suffered a cardiac arrest during the night. The heart attack was later attributed to him suffering from streptococcal pneumonia meningitis. The symptoms he had been suffering the day before are in line with what would be expected in an individual suffering from this ailment.

Mrs Morrissey sought legal counsel, and proceeded to make a claim against the HSE for her husband’s misdiagnosis. In her claim, she stated that no doctor had attended to her husband since the late afternoon before his death, and that the staff that had seen him earlier on did not accurately diagnose his condition, failing to consider that his symptoms were indicative of meningitis.

An investigation was launched to assess the circumstances of Mr Morrissey’s death ensued. After the results were published, the HSE admitted liability. The two legal teams began to negotiate a compensation settlement. A figure of €455,000 was agreed upon by the parties, though due to the nature of Mr Morrissey’s death, the case had to proceed to the High Court before the settlement could be awarded.

The case was heard in the High Court by Mr Justice Michael Hanna. The judge was presented with details of Mr Morrissey’s illness and subsequent death. A statement was read to the Morrissey family by a representative of the HSE, apologising for his wrongful death. Judge Hanna proceeded to approve the compensation settlement, adding that it was a “huge tragedy” for the family, and while the settlement would never be a compensation for Mr Morrissey’s loss, it was the best that could be achieved by the law.

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