Settlement Following Death of a Two-Month Old Infant Due to a Delayed Diagnosis of Bacterial Meningitis

Our office recently settled a case involving the death of a two-month old infant following a delayed diagnosis of bacterial meningitis.

The infant presented to the hospital with signs of a serious bacterial infection, including high fever, grunting, poor feeding, rapid heart rate and rapid breathing rate.  The emergency room doctor ordered blood tests, including a complete blood count (to assess the types of cells in the blood) and a blood culture (to detect bacteria).  The emergency room doctor diagnosed bronchiolitis (a viral infection).  A pediatrician consulted.  His notes indicated that something more was going on, but he provided no treatment. 

Established guidelines called for immediate administration of antibiotic medication and a lumbar puncture.  Early antibiotics are recommended because early treatment is crucial with a serious bacterial infection.  The lumbar puncture would have more quickly diagnosed bacterial meningitis.

Without proper treatment, the infant’s condition quickly deteriorated and she later died of bacterial meningitis.  The plaintiffs’ position was that her death could have been prevented by antibiotics and a lumbar puncture.

During the case, plaintiffs discovered laboratory records that suggested the infant was suffering from a bacterial infection.  These records revealed evidence that was contrary to the understaning of the treating physicians.  The case settled.  

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Enhanced Damages for Cell Phone Use

In New Hampshire it is possible for an injured victim to seek enhanced damages from the person who caused the accident.  Enhanced damages are also called liberal compensatory damages and allow for compensation for any aggravating circumstances or conduct that caused the accident.  Such damages are in addition to traditional pain and suffering damages and are sometimes sought when an accident is caused by a drunk driver.  In order to be allowed to ask a jury to award enhanced damages there must be evidence that the person who caused the accident acted in a wanton, malicious or oppressive manner such that the accident was the result of a reckless indifference or disregard for the safety of the victim.  Recently, the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld criminal penalties when there was evidence the defendant was using her cell phone (including carrying on more than one conversation at a time with call waiting) so extensively while driving she did not see two elderly people in a cross walk even though they were clearly visible for about 300 feet.  One of the victims died.  In order to find the defendant driver guilty of the criminal charge, the jury had to believe that the defendant’s cell phone use while driving was evidence of a reckless indifference to the safety of the victims.  As such, this case would support a claim for enhanced damages in civil cases when similar cell phone use (including texting) contributes to cause any automobile accident.  The case also raises the possibility that enhanced damages may be sought when a driver is substantially impaired or distracted for any reason and causes a similar accident.  The case is State v. Dion, N.H. Supr. Ct. Slip Op. 2011-786 (Feb. 8, 2013).  For more information about enhanced damages when drunk drivers cause accident read this article: Using Rule 404(b) to prove enhanced damages in drunk driving cases which was published in the New Hampshire Trial Bar News, vol. 32 (Winter 2010).

Is it all in your head?

Brain injuries can result from a fall, assault, or a motor vehicle accident.  Symptoms of a concussion, sometimes called a mild traumatic brain injury, can sometimes last weeks and years after the initial injury.  Symptoms of a concussion include headaches, dizziness, memory problems, irritability, noise and light sensitivity, and balance problems.  Loss of consciousness or amnesia at the time of the event may or may not occur.  Imaging studies of the head are typically normal. 

Our office has handled numerous cases involving brain injuries and has recently settled a case involving a concussion following a motor vehicle accident.

You probably have uninsured motorist coverage and don’t know it

Do you have uninsured motorist coverage?  If you have liability coverage for your vehicle, then you do.  New Hampshire law requires that all automobile policies include uninsured motorist coverage in the same amount as liability coverage.  See RSA 264:15.  The reason for this is to protect people who are injured by drivers with no or inadequate insurance.  If you are injured in an accident and the other person has no insurance, or his insurance does not cover all of your damages, you may be able to recover from your own insurance company.