Misdiagnosis of Fungal Meningitis Leads to $650,000 for Man Who Developed Permanent Disability | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

What Happened

Our Virginia medical malpractice client was 25 years old when an emergency room physician mistakenly diagnosed the man’s life-threatening fungal meningitis as the less-serious viral form of the disease.

The young man went to the ER complaining of experiencing headaches, nausea, vomiting, neck pain and unusual sensitivity to bright lights for the preceding eight days. The doctor recognized these symptoms of meningitis and ordered a spinal tap to determine the cause.

Treatments for meningitis vary greatly depending on whether a bacterium, a virus or a fungus causes the infection. For instance, viral meningitis patients usually receive only symptomatic therapies, such as pain relievers, increased fluids and bed rest. No specific medication has proven effective, and the virus almost always clears a patient’s system without causing any serious problems besides discomfort and fatigue.

Here is how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes the standard of care for fungal meningitis: “Fungal meningitis is treated with long courses of high dose antifungal medications, usually given through an IV in the hospital. The length of treatment depends on how strong the immune system is and the type of fungus that caused the infection.”

The doctor did not identify the actual infectious agent afflicting our Virginia medical malpractice client and sent the man home with a prescription for headache meds. The man’s condition worsened dramatically over the next two days, and he was admitted to the hospital as soon as he returned to the emergency room.

Our client survived but suffered permanent, irreversible neurological damage. Healthy before contracting fungal meningitis, he left the hospital completely disabled.


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Key Legal Strategy

Our Virginia medical malpractice client suffered from a type of fungal meningitis called cryptococcal meningitis. Expert witnesses consulted by our firm’s attorney confirmed that while this particular infection is rare, doctors regularly screen for it when analyzing spinal fluid taken from patients who may have meningitis.

Acting quickly to obtain our client’s medical records and the notes made by the ER doctor allowed our medical malpractice attorney to demonstrate that the doctor failed to perform what is considered a standard test. That evidence convinced the doctor’s medical malpractice insurer to enter into mediation instead of fighting the disabled man’s claims in court. The mediation process concluded with the insurance company agreeing to settle all injury, negligence and disability claims for $650,000.

Proving that a mistaken diagnosis constitutes medical malpractice requires showing that a doctor acted negligently in failing to following standard procedures. The oversight made by the emergency room doctor in this case was obvious, and we are glad that we could hold the doctor accountable.

Staff: Staff attorney