€5m settlement for woman left deaf after contracting meningitis

Wednesday 28 May 2014 17.22
Laura Kavanagh is deaf after contracting meningitis as a 13-month-old
Laura Kavanagh is deaf after contracting meningitis as a 13-month-old

An 18-year-old woman who is deaf after contracting meningitis when she was a baby has secured a €5m damages settlement from the High Court.

The settlement of Laura Kavanagh's case against two GPs was made without admission of liability on their part.

Ms Justice Mary Irvine was told experts for the plaintiff would say if Laura had been admitted early to hospital when she became ill it would be expected she would not have developed complications of meningitis.

Laura, who communicates through sign language and some lip reading, also has a moderate intellectual disability.

Laura Kavanagh, of 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 claimed there was an alleged failure to ensure both proper care and the continuity of care for Laura.

It was also claimed there was a failure to attend to her in good time when she became ill in January 1998, particularly in view of the known symptoms and the concerns expressed by Dr Malone in his telephone conversation with her mother.

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

The claims were denied.

Senior Counsel Bruce Antoniotti said Laura had developed normally as a baby.

On 29 January 1998, when she was 13 months old, he said she was ill with a high temperature, was lethargic and had severe fatigue.

Her mother Simone Kavanagh rang Dr Malone and Mr Antoniotti said the doctor asked her if the baby had a rash and to watch out for it.

When her daughter's condition worsened Simone Kavanagh rang the doctors' practice again and spoke to Dr Crean.

Mr Antoniotti said Dr Crean was told of the child's high temperature and that light appeared to be hurting her eyes.

Dr Crean asked Simone Kavanagh to bring her daughter to the surgery if she had a means of transport, which she did not have.

Dr Crean then agreed to come to the house when he had finished surgery.

Three-and-a-half hours after the call, Mr Antoniotti said Dr Crean came to the Kavanagh home and diagnosed a bowel infection and left two suppositories.

The child slept and the next day, on 30 January, Simone Kavanagh rang the GP practice again and was told it would be at least three hours before a doctor could see her.

Mr Antoniotti said Simone Kavanagh later thought her child had improved and rang the doctor practice to convey that and the call out was cancelled.

"That was her lay opinion of the situation. The mother has been blaming herself ever since”, Mr Antoniotti said.

The next day, on 31 January 1998, Mr Antoniotti said Laura was no better and had a high pitch scream and the mother thought of meningitis.

A doctor on call at the practice had the child admitted to hospital immediately.

On admission to hospital it was found Laura had meningitis and was critically ill.

Approving the settlement Ms Justice Irvine said money would never give Laura the life she was meant to have.

Her mother told the court 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.