One severe type of medical malpractice is failing to diagnose infant meningitis. Infant meningitis is a deadly infection that affects the membranes surrounding the spinal cord and brain. Viruses, fungi, or bacteria cause it. A physician’s failure to properly diagnose meningitis can result in your child’s death or life-altering consequences like cognitive, hearing, or vision impairment. Your child might never live a productive life.

If your doctor failed to diagnose your newborn’s meningitis, you could have grounds to take legal action against the healthcare provider for medical malpractice. The Phoenix Personal Injury Attorney Law Firm welcomes the opportunity to speak with you about your experience and the consequences of the doctor’s negligence. We can answer your questions honestly and advise you on what to do. If we take your case, we can work with expert witnesses to strengthen our efforts in establishing a robust medical malpractice case and obtain the fair compensation you and your family deserve.

An Overview of Meningitis

Meningitis is inflammation of the protective membranes that cover the spinal cord and brain. While the condition affects individuals of all age brackets, children under two are more likely to suffer from meningitis.

Approximately 0.1 to 0.4 neonates (infants below 28 days) get meningitis out of every thousand live births. It is a severe disease, but 90% of these children survive.

Newborns’ blood-brain barrier and immune system have not developed. The blood-brain barrier prevents infections from entering your child’s brain via the bloodstream, while the immune system fights infections. Also, infants are not immunized until they are two months old.

Some of the symptoms of infant meningitis include the following:

  • Tense or bulging spots on your child’s head.
  • High temperatures, although temperatures can be average in a child below three months.
  • Extreme shivering.
  • Vomiting or poor feeding.
  • Fast breathing.
  • Stiffness with uncontrollable movements or stillness and floppiness.
  • Cold feet and hands.
  • Grunting sounds.
  • Irritable with a high-pitched cry or moaning.
  • Bluish, blotchy, or pale skin.
  • Purple bruises or pin prick rash skin.

Please note that some symptoms might manifest before the rashes appear. 

Long-term Complications and Effects

About sixty percent of children who survive infant meningitis develop neurological complications like movement challenges, cognitive issues, seizures, and hearing and vision impairments.

Also, a study by Ku, L. C., Boggess, K. A., and Cohen-Wolkowiez, M. suggests that minors in their initial five years of life who survive infant meningitis are ten times more likely to develop disabilities than those who have not had infant meningitis.

Causes of Infant Meningitis

Causes of infant meningitis include the following:

  • Viral Meningitis

Viral meningitis has long been the most typical cause of infant meningitis, but since vaccine development, this form of meningitis has been rare.

Common viruses that cause mild illness include the following:

  1. Non-polio enteroviruses — They cause most types of infections like colds. The virus spreads when the infant encounters infected oral secretions and stool.
  2. Influenza — The virus causes flu, and it spreads via contact with a secretion from the mouth or lung of an infected individual.
  3. Mumps and measles viruses.

Viruses that cause serious infant meningitis include the following:

  1. Varicella spreads by contacting an infected person.
  2. West Nile virus— A mosquito bite transmits it.
  3. Herpes simplex virus— Usually, a child develops it from their parents during delivery or in the womb.
  • Bacterial Meningitis

The following bacteria cause bacterial meningitis during the initial month of life:

  1. Group B Streptococcus spreads from the mother to the infant during delivery.
  2. Listeria monocytogenes — When the parent eats contaminated food, neonates get the bacteria from their mother before birth.
  3. Gram-negative bacilli — It spreads from the mother to the baby during birth. Your child can also develop the condition by eating contaminated food cooked by someone who did not wash their hands after using the restroom.

In children between one month and five years old, the bacteria that cause infant meningitis are Haemophilus influenzae type b, Neisseria meningitidis, and Streptococcus pneumoniae.

  • Fungal Meningitis

Typically, fungal meningitis affects individuals with weak immune systems, making it rare.

Many forms of fungi cause meningitis.

Diagnosing Infant Meningitis

On top of conducting a physical exam, physicians use the following tests to make the most appropriate diagnosis:

  • Blood tests involve removing some blood and analyzing it for signs of infection.
  • Blood cultures — Blood extracted from your child’s vein is spread on plates where fungi, viruses, or bacteria grow well. If anything develops, that is probably the root cause of infant meningitis.
  • CT scan — Your physician can use a CT scan of your child’s head to see if there is an abscess (an infection pocket).
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) involves removing and testing fluids surrounding your child’s spinal cord and brain. Moreover, it puts them on plates to see if something grows.
  • Rectal, throat, and nose swabs help identify viruses that cause infant meningitis.

Infant Meningitis Treatment

Infant meningitis progresses rapidly, and children should be treated after symptoms begin manifesting.

Treating bacterial meningitis requires hospitalization. Children receive antibiotics intravenously for fourteen to twenty-one days, depending on the bacteria causing the condition.

Most children suffering from viral meningitis do not need hospitalization. They can recover at home within ten days. Physicians do not treat them with antibiotics but recommend taking lots of fluids and resting. However, viral meningitis caused by herpes simplex infection requires intravenous antiviral drugs.

If a neurological complication develops, your doctor will use physical therapy, social support, medication, cognitive therapy, and medications throughout your infant’s life. Your primary pediatrician should coordinate with other specialists, like neurologists.

Proving the Failure to Diagnose Infant Meningitis Medical Malpractice

Failure to diagnose is when a physician fails to recognize the signs and symptoms of severe disease. A medical error leaves a potentially fatal condition or illness untreated. It can also include the following:

  • Failing to refer your child to a specialist.
  • Failure to screen infant meningitis.
  • Not consulting with you regarding your child’s symptoms.
  • Failure to investigate the potential cause of your child’s symptoms.
  • Misinterpreting laboratory results.

For you to receive compensation from the defendant, you must prove the following elements of negligence:

  • A doctor-patient relationship existed — A doctor-patient relationship was formed when you chose the physician to treat your child, the doctor agreed to treat your infant, or the healthcare facility assigned the medical practitioner to your child. Proving this element prevents people from taking legal action against doctors whose advice they got secondhand or overheard.
  • The physician was negligent — You cannot proceed with your medical malpractice claim simply because you are unsatisfied with your child’s treatment. You do not have to verify that your doctor should have been better or the best but should have been more cautious. You can use a medical expert witness to testify about the standard of care your child should have received and how the physician deviated from that standard of care.
  • Negligence caused your injuries — Medical malpractice cases are tricky because patients are often sick, and the plaintiff should establish that the physician caused the harm. This is where a medical expert would come in handy to testify that the doctor’s negligence played a significant role in causing your child harm. A skilled Phoenix attorney can examine your case to determine where negligence applies.
  • Damages — You must provide specific evidence of damage due to negligence. Common damages awarded include medical expenses, lost income, lost earning capacity, loss of consortium, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and emotional distress. You can also recover punitive damages by proving the defendant acted with an evil hand and was reprehensible. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant. Arizona does not place a cap on the compensation amount you can collect in your medical malpractice case.

Steps to Take Once You Suspect Medical Malpractice

Mistakes happen and can easily catch you off guard. Stress, anger, confusion, and fear are appropriate and typical responses, particularly if the errors occur due to another person’s negligence or inaction. Your actions immediately after the medical malpractice incident will significantly impact your claim's outcome. This section advises on steps to take, what to avoid, and why it matters.

Find Another Healthcare Provider

As a parent, you should make your child’s health a priority. If you think a physician did not diagnose your child, finding another healthcare expert immediately is essential to rectifying the medical error. The second medical provider will perform tests and review your child’s records before diagnosing them. The second opinion will also pay attention to treating any complications caused by the mistake and providing the necessary treatment.

Request Your Child’s Medical Records

Next, you should request copies of the child’s medical records immediately. The medical records contain information about the signs and symptoms your child is experiencing, the tests performed, their medical history, and the prescribed medications. You can use this information to prove your medical malpractice claim.

Requesting the records before bringing your lawsuit is advisable so the medical practitioner does not try to alter your information. While falsifying or altering medical records is unlawful, this does not stop some physicians from doing it to avoid responsibility.

Keep Your Child’s Journal

If you think your child is a medical malpractice victim, begin keeping a journal where you can note down your infant’s health details. Describe any symptoms your child is experiencing due to the medical mistake and explain how it has affected your life and family. For instance, if you have had to miss work to seek your child’s treatment following the mistake, note that down.

Ensure you write in your journal every day so you have a record of what you endured.

Seek Legal Representation

Civil cases are complicated, so it is wise to retain a competent personal injury lawyer instead of representing yourself.

The attorney will meet with you to discuss your case and listen to information and facts that need follow-up and clarification. They will also ask relevant questions about the incidence of medical malpractice, the harm caused, its effects, and recovery. Your story version becomes the attorney’s road as they protect your legal interests.

Other reasons why you should hire an attorney include the following:

  • Level the playing field when dealing with the insurer — One intimidating aspect of having a case is dealing with the defendant and their insurance provider. An average person does not know the legal requirements concerning when to speak with the insurer and what they ought to disclose. Your attorney can handle your communication with the insurer.
  • Handle the legal document filing, paperwork, and record-keeping — If you have read any legal contracts or terms, you know how devastating and confusing legal jargon can be. In your medical malpractice case, you will have to handle a lot of paperwork, like forms to read, fill out, file, respond to, and sign. Your attorney is trained and knows the best language to use, the appropriate timeline to file your case, how to organize records, and how to respond to correspondence forms from the defendant.
  • They understand your claim’s value — Your seasoned attorney has previously handled similar cases and knows how to determine the value of your case, harm, and the disease’s effect. They can accurately represent your current and future needs and wants and maximize your chances of obtaining fair compensation.
  • Helps you avoid costly mistakes — A lot is at stake when dealing with the insurance provider and taking the case to court. Everything plays into the matter, from medical expenses to diminished life quality to lost income, and there is a chance to make a misstep. Learning on the job is not an option when seeking compensation, so hire a skilled and knowledgeable attorney.

Avoid Contacting the Defendant

Your lawyer should be your point of contact in your case, so avoid contacting the at-fault doctor or employees at the hospital to threaten or warn them about the lawsuit.

Moreover, refrain from discussing the matter on social media. The defendant can still find your posts even when your social media platforms are private.

The insurance provider could contact you after the at-fault party learns about the legal action. If this occurs, tell the insurance adjuster to contact your lawyer.

Know How Long You Have to Bring Your Lawsuit

When contemplating bringing a medical malpractice lawsuit, knowing how long you must file your claim lawfully is essential. Civil claims have time limits for when plaintiffs should bring them, known as statutes of limitations.

In Phoenix, the statute of limitations begins when a plaintiff knows or should have known with reasonable diligence that medical negligence caused the harm. After the SOL has passed, you risk losing the ability to receive compensation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Discussed below are commonly asked questions about Arizona Medical Malpractice:

  • Is There a Formula for Calculating Economic Damages?

Each medical malpractice case is unique. Infant meningitis can affect two children in different ways. Your child’s health can also affect your claim’s final value. Due to these differences, no extra formula for calculating medical malpractice claims exists. 

  • Can Your Medical Malpractice be Reopened After Settling It?

No. Like all civil cases, you, the plaintiff, should sign a release in which you agree to forgo future legal action once your case is closed. Consequently, you should fully understand the extent of your losses before entering into any agreement. Your attorney should review the paperwork before signing it.

  • What is the Preponderance of Evidence?

The preponderance of evidence is the burden of proof used in civil cases. It requires the plaintiff to prove that it is more likely than not that their version of the story is authentic. In layman’s language, they must prove their proof is more persuasive and carries more weight than the defendant’s evidence.

  • What are Filing Requirements Concerning Medical Expert Opinions in Phoenix?

When bringing a medical malpractice claim in Phoenix, you and your attorney should include a certification indicating whether a medical expert's testimony will be essential to establishing the doctor's negligence.

Suppose the certification says that the testimony will be vital. In that case, you and your lawyer should submit a preliminary affidavit from a trained medical expert witness with the expert's opinion on the doctor's mistakes, omissions, or actions that broke the standard of care and how the conduct caused your child's harm. You should file and serve the affidavit on the defendant within thirty days following the defendant's filing of their response to your complaint.

Find a Knowledgeable Medical Malpractice Personal Injury Lawyer Near Me

If your infant is a victim of failure to diagnose infant meningitis due to medical malpractice, you and your child can qualify for compensation for your child’s damages. However, proving medical negligence and receiving compensation can be overwhelming, and the best way to protect your rights is to retain legal assistance. The Phoenix Personal Injury Attorney Law Firm wants to hear your story. If you hire us, we can investigate your case, work with medical expert witnesses to strengthen your case, and identify how the doctor deviated from the standard of care. We can also work aggressively to win a jury verdict or settlement that reflects the range of damages suffered.

Please contact our experienced medical malpractice lawyers at 602-641-9589 for a free case review and consultation.