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Brain damage - failure to diagnose an abscess leading to sudden collapse and brain damage with development of severe cognitive defect and disability

Defendants: Basildon and Thurrock University NHS Trust

The Facts

A 17-year-old boy attended the casualty department of his local hospital complaining of severe earache and also ongoing serious headache. He was examined and blood samples were taken for analysis. He was told that he would be contacted when the results were available if there were any problems. The hospital phoned to recall him to casualty the same night, as his blood tests results were abnormal. However when he was seen again in casualty, he was given no treatment, reassured and sent home.

He collapsed at home about a week later and was rushed to hospital where a diagnosis of a brain abscess and empyema was made. He underwent major brain surgery on several occasions to save his life. He was left with severe brain damage including serious memory problems. He now needs care and assistance with most aspects of his life, is unable to live independently and is unable to deal with his own affairs.


  • Failure to take account of abnormal signs and symptoms and blood test results and take appropriate steps.
  • Failure to recognise and act appropriately when he complained of earache and constant headache.
  • Failure to diagnose infection and brain abscess leading to collapse and brain damage.


The defendants denied liability for the brain damage when the claim was made. In depth investigations were undertaken involving obtaining opinions from several experts in brain injury. High Court proceedings were issued and served. Some limited admissions were then made by the hospital in respect of the breach of duty leading to the brain damage but the client was put to strict proof of the losses and injuries he had suffered.

The case proceeded. Witness and expert evidence was exchanged between the parties and the case was listed for a 6-day trial in the High Court.

Shortly before trial, the defendants suggested a settlement meeting should take place and an offer to settle was made. His solicitor advised that the offer should be rejected, as it was too low. Further negotiations took place and terms of settlement were eventually agreed between the parties shortly before the trial was due to start. The terms of settlement needed formal court approval, as the client was under a disability because of the brain damage and unable to manage his own affairs.

The terms of settlement for the brain damage included a lump sum and regular index linked periodical payments each year. The total value of the settlement if the claimant lives for his expected life span (and there is no reason why he should not) is in excess of £7 million.