Saturday 16 February 2019

High Court awards further €1.5m to opera singer left disabled after hospital failed to diagnose headaches

Elaine Lennon pictured arriving at the Four Courts for a High Court action. Photo: Collins Courts
Elaine Lennon pictured arriving at the Four Courts for a High Court action. Photo: Collins Courts

Tim Healy

A further €1.5m settlement has been approved for a talented opera singer who was severely disabled due to failures to properly diagnose headaches she was suffering from.

The total settlement to date for Elaine Lennon is now more than €5.1m.

The president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly said Ms Lennon was a talented opera singer who was pursuing a masters in psychology when she suffered the injuries.

She is also one of many catastrophically injured plaintiffs adversely affected by the continuing delay over years to enact laws allowing for lifelong payments in such cases, he said.  This was her fourth time to have to come to court to have her future care needs assessed, he said. 

This latest payment of some €1.5m is intended to cover her care for the next five years.

Denis McCullough SC said Ms Lennon is very determined and her condition has improved somewhat since she was last before the court.

While she remains often confined to a wheelchair, she can manage to walk significant distances with the assistance of carers.

She can no longer sing and, had she not suffered her injuries, may have pursued a professional career in music or psychology, he said. She had previously been offered work with Riverdance.

Ms Lennon (42), a mother of one, suffered severe injuries in 2007 due to failures to properly diagnose the cause of her headaches.  Through her now deceased father John Lennon, Ms Lennon had sued the HSE and Dr Patrick Mathuna, a GP at Castle Mill Medical Centre, Balbriggan, arising from her injuries.

Liability was admitted by both defendants.

Formerly of Newhaven Bay, Balbriggan, and now living in Kilbarrack, Dublin, she was 39 weeks pregnant at the time of her injury and later gave birth to her daughter Claudia. The High Court was previously told she would have been fine had a CT scan of her brain had been carried out in time.

In the action, it was alleged Ms Lennon arrived at the accident and emergency unit of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, Co Louth, on February 4, 2007 complaining of headaches and was diagnosed by a medical registrar as suffering from a urinary tract infection and dehydration. 

As she was pregnant, she was assessed by a midwife and later underwent a Caesarean section. Doctors at the hospital twice queried whether she should have a CT scan of her brain but none was carried out.

She was discharged on February 11 along with her baby but continued to suffer from headaches and was vomiting. She attended Dr Mathuna's clinic on February 14 when she was given an injection which worked for around 24 hours. 

Dr Mathuna called to her on February 17, told her he believed she could be suffering post-natal depression and exhaustion and prescribed a sedative, it was claimed.

Later that day, she collapsed at home and was taken to hospital where a CT scan carried out the next day revealed an abscess in her brain had burst.

It was alleged the HSE, as operator of the hospital, was negligent in failing to carry out the CT scan when she first went to hospital and carried it out too late on the second admission.

It was alleged Dr Mathuna was negligent by wrongly diagnosing her symptoms as pregnancy-related and failing to refer her to the hospital having regard to her history of repeated headaches.

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