Clinic Responsible for Misdiagnosing Newborn's Meningitis, Must Pay Millions

Wayne J. Guglielmo, MA

May 08, 2023

A health system serving three Midwest states must pay millions to the parents of a now 10-year-old boy whose meningitis was misdiagnosed at birth, according to a report in the Star Tribune, among other news outlets.

The story of the jury verdict begins in 2013, when the boy, Johnny Galligan, was just 8 days old.

Alarmed by the newborn's crying, lack of appetite, and fever, his parents, Alina and Steve Galligan, brought him to Essentia-Health-Ashland Clinic, located in Memorial Medical Center, in Ashland, Wisconsin. There, the baby was seen by Andrew D. Snider, MD, a family physician. Snider noted the baby's extreme fussiness and irritability and was concerned that he was being overfed. Without ordering additional tests, the family physician sent the baby home but arranged for the Galligans to be visited by a county nurse the following day.

Her visit raised concerns, as court documents make clear. She contacted Snider's office and explained that the baby needed to be seen immediately. After writing a script for reflux and constipation, Snider arranged for the baby to be taken to his office later that day.

Events proceeded rapidly from this point.

Following an x-ray, Johnny appeared lethargic and in respiratory distress. He was then taken down the hall to Memorial's emergency department (ED), where doctors suspected a critical bowel obstruction. Arrangements were made for him to be transported by helicopter to Essentia Health, in Duluth, Minnesota. There, doctors saw that Johnny was acidotic and in respiratory failure. Once again, he was rerouted, this time to Children's Hospital, in Minneapolis, where physicians finally arrived at a definitive diagnosis: meningitis.

In 2020, the Galligans filed a medical malpractice claim against several parties, including Snider, Duluth Clinic LTD (doing business as Essentia Health and Essentia Health–Ashland Clinic), and Memorial Hospital. In their suit, Johnny's parents alleged that the collective failure to diagnose their son's severe infection led directly to his permanent brain damage.

But a Bayfield County, Wisconsin, jury didn't quite see things that way. After deliberating, it dismissed the claim against Snider and the other named defendants and found the staff of Duluth Clinic to be solely responsible for injuries to Johnny Galligan.

Duluth must pay $19 million to the Galligan family, of which the largest amount ($7,500,00) is to be directed to Johnny's "future medical expenses and care needs."

These expenses and costs are likely to be significant. Currently, at 10 years of age, Johnny can't walk and is confined to a wheelchair. He has serious neurologic problems and is almost completely deaf and blind.

"He's doing fairly well, which I attribute to his family providing care for him," says the attorney who represented the Galligans. "They care for him 24/7. They take him swimming and on four-wheeler rides. He's not bedridden. He has the best possible quality of life he could have, in my opinion."

In a statement following the verdict, Essentia Health said that, while it felt "compassion for the family," it stood by the care it had provided in 2013: "We are exploring our options regarding next steps and remain committed to delivering high-quality care to the patients and communities we are privileged to serve."

ED Physician Found Not Liable for Embolism, Jury Finds

A Missouri doctor accused of incorrectly treating a woman's embolism has been found not liable for her death, reports a story in Missouri Lawyers Media.

The woman went to her local hospital's ED complaining of pain and swelling in her leg. At the ED, an emergency physician examined her and discovered an extensive, visible thrombosis. No other symptoms were noted.

In the past, such a finding would have prompted immediate hospital admission. But the standard of care has evolved. Now, many doctors first prescribe enoxaparin sodium (Lovenox), an anticoagulant used to treat deep-vein thrombosis. This was the option chosen by the Missouri emergency physician to treat his patient. After administering a first dose of the drug, he wrote a script for additional doses; consulted with his patient's primary care physician; and arranged for the patient to be seen by him, the ED physician, the following day.

At the drugstore, though, the woman became ill, and an emergency medical services crew was alerted. Despite its quick response, the woman died en route to the hospital. No autopsy was later performed, and it was generally presumed that she had died of a pulmonary embolism.

Following the woman's death, her family sued the emergency physician, alleging that his failure to admit the woman to the hospital most likely delayed treatment that could have saved her life.

The defense pushed back, arguing that the ED physician had followed the standard of care. "Even if she come into the ER with full-blown [pulmonary embolism]," says the attorney representing the emergency physician, "the first thing you do is give Lovenox. It is just one of those rare circumstances where you can do everything right, but the patient can still die."

The trial jury agreed. After deliberating for more than an hour, it found that the emergency physician was not responsible for the patient's death.

At press time, there was no word on whether the plaintiffs planned to appeal.

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