Thursday 22 August 2019

Family receive €400k after death of mum diagnosed with serious flesh-eating infection following hospital procedure

Tim Healy

A family who sued over the death of a woman at Tallaght Hospital after being diagnosed with a serious flesh eating bacterial infection following a bowel procedure have settled their action for some €400,000.

The settlement was made without admission of liability.

Shirley Ann Plunkett (42) was diagnosed with necrotising fasciitis, a rare bacterial skin infection, the day before she died at the hospital on March 10th 2011. 

She left behind a young son, then aged nine, who has since been cared for by her parents, Philip and Teresa. He will get the vast bulk of the settlement.

Seeking approval for the settlement, Michael Howard SC, instructed by Elizabeth Howard of Howard Synnott solicitors for the family, said the case arose from "a series of unfortunate events" outlined in documents to the court.

His side were confident they would have won the case had it gone to hearing but there was a concern as necrotising fasciitis is a known complication of perforation of the small bowel, counsel said. 

Mr Justice Richard Humphreys agreed to approve the settlement.

Philip Plunkett, Castleview, Clondalkin, Dublin, on behalf of his grandson and the family, sued the hospital and HSE arising from the death of his daughter.

The defendants denied all the claims, including of negligence.

It was alleged Ms Plunkett was referred in July 2010 to Tallaght Hospital for further assessment and/or services arising from a laparotomy procedure for recurrent small bowel obstruction which she underwent at the hospital in 2009. Her recovery was complicated with small bowel difficulties persisting after the procedure, it was claimed.

It was alleged a diagnostic laparaoscopy was advised in January 2011 and Ms Plunkett later underwent that on March 9th 2011 as a day procedure.

It was alleged, given her complex prior history, she should not have been admitted as a day case. It was alleged multiple adhesions were found during a four hour operation with five laparoscopic ports inserted to facilitate the section. 

Ms Plunkett was then admitted as an in-patient and detained overnight.  It was alleged her condition deteriorated on March 9th and she was admitted to ICU. Later that day, an urgent CT scan was carried out, she was diagnosed with necrotising fasciitis and brought to theatre where a laparotomy was peformed.

Intra-abdominal sepsis due to small bowel perforation was found, together with dense adhesions, it was claimed. Ms Plunkett’s condition continued to deteriorate on March 10th 2011 and she went into cardiac arrest just after 2.30pm and died.

The family alleged a series of failures in the care and treatment of Ms Plunkett including in relation to the procedure carried out on March 8th 2011 and post-operatively.

The defendants, it was further alleged, failed to give Ms Plunkett a chance of a timely diagnosis where a perforation of the small bowel was not identified when, it was alleged, it should have been.

It was also alleged adequate procedures were not adhered to and performed in light of the symptoms being presented by Ms Plunkett. There was also failure to identify and communicate the dangers of the laparoscopy procedure to Ms Plunkett, it was claimed.

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