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Viral Encephalitis Brain Damage Claim leads to £3.8m award

A man has been awarded £3.8m in his viral encephalitis brain damage claim at the High Court. The illness was allegedly initially misdiagnosed as eczema.

Martin O’Brien (45) had developed a rash with itchy sores in January 1996. He was taken to hospital, who believed he had scabies and who prescribed benzyl benzoate as a temporary measure.

At the hospital, Martin was diagnosed as having eczema and, when his case was looked over in February, it was claimed in court that he was advised to continue using the treatment prescribed for him in January.

However, by the end of March, he was complaining of aches, pains, fevers, sweating and memory loss and, after attending a different hospital, on March 31st, Martin collapsed and was then admitted to the hospital under the care of Dr. Brendan S Duffy.

Mr Justice John Quirke heard at the High Court that following his collapse, Martin had complained of experiencing a blackout, amnesia, headaches, a stiff neck, a loss of power in his lower limbs and abnormal rolling of his eyes.

By 31st March Martin was unable to recognise his wife and, it was stated, that tests taken after his admission indicated encephalitis and possibly herpes simplex. However, no treatment against the virus was prescribed until April 4th, when Zovirax was prescribed, and on April 5th when Acyclovir was added to the treatment. Martin was kept in hospital until August 1996.

In the subsequent action taken against Dr Duffy and the Health Service Executive, it was claimed that Martin suffered severe brain damage as a result of the delay and was described in court as a “child in a man´s body”. He can no longer work and has relied for the past fifteen years on care provided by his family.

A settlement of £3.8m without admission of liability was negotiated between legal representatives of Martin´s family and insurers for Dr Duffy. In approving the settlement, Mr Justice John Quirke paid tribute to Martin´s wife, Anna Marie, describing her as “a wonderful lady” and directed that part of the award should immediately be paid to the family for the care they had provided.