Australia: Was the doctor negligent for failing to identify meningitis symptoms? Which case won?

Last Updated: 11 September 2019
Article by Phil Griffin

The Facts

Patient suffers from neck pain and headaches

In early September 2008, a woman, who was then 43, began suffering from neck pain and headaches. She consulted a chiropractor, but the pain and headaches continued.

The woman consulted her GP due to worsening neck pain, severe headaches and facial flushing. The GP advised her to continue with chiropractic treatment and with the pain medication she was currently taking.

Patient's symptoms worsen and condition continues to decline

When the woman next consulted her GP six days later, the neck pain and headaches had further worsened and she was also complaining of dizziness and loss of strength in her left leg. The GP referred her for a CT scan of the spine and prescribed additional medication.

The following day, the woman was reviewed by her GP with the results of the CT scan, which revealed five bulging discs in her cervical spine. The GP advised the patient that her symptoms were related to her spinal condition and advised bed rest for a week.

During that time, the patient's symptoms significantly deteriorated. When she was reviewed by her GP a further six days later, she was referred to a local private hospital.

Diagnosis of cryptococcal meningitis and development of catastrophic injuries

By the following day, the patient had developed alarming symptoms, including neck swelling and profound deafness. Following tests undertaken at the hospital that day, the patient was diagnosed with cryptococcal meningitis, which caused her to suffer a number of permanent disabilities, the most significant of which were loss of hearing and blindness.

The patient sued her GP for negligence in not undertaking a proper examination or making proper enquiries in relation to her symptoms. The patient alleged that her GP should have referred her for tests and treatment which would have led to an early diagnosis of her illness and avoided the catastrophic injuries that she suffered.

case a - The case for the patient

case b - The case for the doctor

  • I trusted the advice of my GP. She should have been able to identify the symptoms of cryptococcal meningitis and sent me for tests or referred me to a specialist by at least the third consultation.
  • The GP did not conduct a physical examination of my neck in any of the first three consultations. Had she done so, she would have discovered that I could not bend my neck forward and touch my chin to my chest. This is a symptom of cryptococcal meningitis, a condition which is emphasised in clinical teaching for general practitioners.
  • If I had been referred for tests or to a specialist by at least the third consultation, I would have acted upon the referral quickly and would have been treated in time to save my eyesight and hearing.
  • I have lost my sight and hearing as a result of my GP's failure to exercise reasonable care and skill. She should have performed a physical examination of my neck at the second or third consultation and she should have enquired about the headaches, neck stiffness and facial flushing I had complained of previously.
  • The court should find my GP liable in negligence.
  • The patient's symptoms at the second and third consultations were largely consistent with a pre-existing spinal condition. She did not report that her symptoms had deteriorated or that her neck pain was severe. She also did not say anything about a headache, did not report flushing to the face and did not report nausea or vomiting. The treatment that I provided was reasonable based on the patient's symptoms as they presented.
  • Even if I had tested the patient's neck movement in all directions during the physical examination prior to the last consultation, it would not have revealed difficulty in movement such as to require further investigation.
  • Had I referred the patient to a specialist prior to the last consultation, it is unlikely that cryptococcal meningitis would have been diagnosed and treated at that time so as to avoid the catastrophic injuries that she suffered.
  • The treatment I provided accorded with the reasonable standard of general practice. The chances of the patient suffering from cryptococcal meningitis were only twenty in a million. It is improbable that any GP would have referred the patient for tests or to a specialist at an earlier time.
  • The court should find that I am not liable in negligence.

So, which case won?

Cast your judgment below to find out

Phil Griffin
Medical negligence
Stacks Law Firm

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions