Making a Compensation Claim for Meningitis

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Last updated:
Kate McCue

Medical Negligence Associate Solicitor

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What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord (meninges). It occurs when the protective layers surrounding the brain and spinal cord become inflamed. This is caused by germs entering the body and infecting those delicate membranes.

It can affect anyone, but is most common in babies, young children, teenagers and young adults. Meningitis can be very serious if not treated quickly as it can cause life threatening blood poisoning (more commonly referred to as sepsis) and result in permanent damage to the brain or nerves.

Infections that cause meningitis can be spread through sneezing, coughing or kissing. Meningitis is usually caught from people who carry these viruses or bacteria in their nose or throat but are not ill themselves. It can also be caught from someone with meningitis, although this is less common.

A number of vaccinations are available that offer some protection against meningitis. The two main types of meningitis in the UK result from either viral or bacterial infections.

What is Bacterial Meningitis?

Bacterial meningitis is the rarer but most serious of the two and can be fatal if left undiagnosed and untreated. Prompt admission to hospital is therefore needed to reduce its effects.

Bacterial meningitis is caused by bacteria, which are spread through the air by coughing and sneezing or by contact with skin or surfaces. It is most common in children under a year old and in teenagers.

What is Viral Meningitis?

Viral meningitis is caused by a virus, tends to have milder symptoms and is more common during the summer.

Viral meningitis is rarely life threatening and seldom contagious but presents similar symptoms to the bacterial form of the condition. Most patients go on to make a full recovery, although some are left with resulting after effects such as memory loss or exhaustion.

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What are the Symptoms of Meningitis?

Meningitis has a tendency to develop without warning; its symptoms manifesting quickly and with a rapid degree of debilitation.

Meningitis symptoms can include:

  • Stiff neck
  • Headaches
  • Aversion to light
  • Leg pain
  • Confusion
  • Feverish temperature

A rash that doesn't fade when pressure is applied to it (usually with a glass) is also an indicator of meningitis, although this doesn’t always manifest.

Who Can Catch Meningitis?

Anybody can develop meningitis, but children under 5 and young people in the 15 to 19 age bracket are most likely to get the disease. Elderly people and those with weakened immune systems are also more vulnerable to contracting meningitis.

The condition is mostly spread through contact with a carrier - somebody who’s carrying the disease but isn't ill with it themselves.

What Should I Do If I Suspect Meningitis?

If you or a loved one is feeling extremely and suddenly ill and displaying any of the symptoms associated with meningitis, there’s a possibility that you or they have the disease.

If this is the case, you should seek immediate medical attention, either by calling an ambulance or going to your local Accident & Emergency Department. The NHS advises that you trust your instinct and not wait for a rash to develop. It could save your life.

People with suspected meningitis will usually have tests in hospital to confirm the diagnosis and check whether the condition is the result of a viral or bacterial infection. Bacterial meningitis usually needs to be treated in hospital for at least a week. Treatments include:

  • antibiotics given directly into a vein
  • fluids given directly into a vein
  • oxygen through a face mask

Viral meningitis tends to get better on its own within 7 to 10 days and can often be treated at home. Getting plenty of rest and taking painkillers and anti-sickness medication can help relieve the symptoms in the meantime.

What Complications Can Arise from Meningitis?

Most people are able to make a full recovery from meningitis, but it can sometimes cause serious long-term problems and can be life threatening. This is why it's important to get medical help as soon as possible if you think you or your child has symptoms of meningitis, and why meningitis vaccinations are offered to certain groups.

It's estimated that up to 1 person in every 2 or 3 who survives bacterial meningitis is left with 1 or more permanent problems. Complications are much rarer after viral meningitis.

Aside from the potential to kill, meningitis can also have a range of life-changing after effects that can be seriously detrimental to your quality of life. These include:

  • A lack of coordination
  • Blindness or blurred vision
  • Deafness and problems with balance
  • Headaches and seizures
  • Paralysis, muscle fatigue or lack of energy
  • Speech problems
  • Memory loss
  • Cognitive issues
  • Kidney problems
  • Bone and joint problems
  • Learning difficulties
  • Behavioural problems
  • Loss of limbs

In some cases, the after effects of meningitis are permanent but in others they’re only temporary. Recovery time for temporary issues varies from patient to patient.

Why is it Important to Get Immediate Medical Attention?

Unfortunately, it’s estimated 1 in 10 cases of bacterial meningitis prove fatal. It also causes more fatalities in the under-5 age group than any other infectious disease.

Even the ordinarily less serious strain of viral meningitis can have life-changing consequences as a result of its after effects so the sooner it’s diagnosed and treatment begins, the greater the chances of survival and full recovery.

Meningitis can kill within hours. It’s not uncommon for a child or a family member who wasn’t diagnosed with meningitis and treated in time to die as a result.

Additional treatment and long-term support may be required if you or your child experience complications of meningitis. Examples of this include: 

  • cochlear implants, which are small devices that are inserted into the ears to improve hearing, may be needed in cases of severe hearing loss
  • prosthetic limbs and rehabilitation support may help if it was necessary to amputate any limbs
  • counselling and psychological support may help if the trauma of having meningitis causes problems such as disturbed sleep, bedwetting, or fear of doctors and hospitals

Why Should I Make a Claim for Meningitis?

If you believe that the medical treatment you received for meningitis was inadequate or negligent, you may be able to make a claim for compensation.

Perhaps you believe that the symptoms of meningitis were missed, delaying your treatment and leading to further complications, health problems or disability. Alternatively, it may be that your meningitis was allowed to get worse and led to debilitating after effects. 

As with any medical condition, it’s important not to jump to the wrong conclusion. But while doctors are highly trained and cases of negligence are rare, sometimes things do go wrong , and you should be prepared for this.

In those circumstances, it may be appropriate to seek compensation after trying to go through the official NHS Complaints Procedure. This procedure may assist you in understanding what happened, why certain decisions were taken and/or what went wrong. If you remain unsatisfied by this or believe that you are still entitled to compensation for negligence after going through this process, we’re here to help.

A successful medical negligence meningitis claim isn’t just about getting compensation. With the right compensation settlement, you’ll be in a better position to cope with any ongoing physical or emotional problems caused by your meningitis symptoms.

Furthermore, a successful claim can help to raise awareness of meningitis and the errors that led to your claim. In turn, the chances of mistakes being repeated with other patients can be reduced. If this helps to prevent even one person suffering from meningitis, then it’s definitely worth it.

Meningitis Claims Time Limit

You have 3 years from the date of negligence (i.e. an incorrect diagnosis or a failure to treat) or if there was a delay in diagnosis and/or a delay in the adverse effects then it would be 3 years from the date of knowledge that you were aware that had been negligence

If your child was affected, this 3-year limit doesn’t expire until their 21st birthday.   If a claim is brought for an injured child then a litigation friend (usually a parent) would have to be apponited and bring the claim on their behalf.   If the injured person is classed as a Protected Party and doesn’t have the capacity to conduct proceedings, the 3-year limit won’t apply. This can be complicated however so it’s important to get legal advice as soon as possible.


Great Ormond Street Hospital. (n.d.). Meningitis. Retrieved from (Accessed: December 30, 2023).

NHS. (n.d.). Meningitis - Complications. Retrieved from (Accessed: December 30, 2023).

NHS. (n.d.). Meningitis. Retrieved from (Accessed: December 30, 2023).

Simpson Millar Solicitors. (n.d.). Meningitis Mistreatment. Retrieved from (Accessed: December 30, 2023).

Kate McCue

Medical Negligence Associate Solicitor

Areas of Expertise:
Medical Negligence

Kate joined the Clinical Negligence department at Simpson Millar in January 2023 after previously working at Chris Kallis Solicitors in Plymouth. Kate qualified as a solicitor in 2004 and has developed extensive experience in both Personal Injury and Medical Negligence.   

Initially Kate started working as a Defendant Solicitor for firms such as Bond Pearce LLP and DAC Beachcroft Claims Ltd. This has allowed Kate to develop a tactical advantage to her cases, using the experience of how a claim is dealt with from a Defendant’s perspective. 

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