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Failure to Diagnose Syphilis Results in $1 Million Jury Verdict

A Chicago jury has awarded more than $1 million to a 53 year-old man who suffers impaired vision as the result of his doctor’s failure to timely diagnose and treat syphilis. The man presented to the defendant as a new patient in February of 2008 complaining of coughing, shortness of breath and tightness in his chest. He reported that he was gay but the doctor did not note that in his medical records or ask any follow-up questions regarding his sexual practices. According to his lawyers, these symptoms can be consistent with males suffering from the initial stage of syphilis. He was sent home with medicine for bronchitis.

The man presented again one month later after his symptoms had returned. At that time, he also was experiencing a rash on his hands and feet. The defendant prescribed him Benadryl for a suspected allergic reaction to the medication and an inhaler for his chest symptoms. The symptoms went away and he was symptom free for approximately one year until in 2009, he began to experience vision problems.

An eye doctor referred him for a blood test which was positive for both syphilis and HIV. By the time the syphilis was diagnosed, the man was suffering from the third stage of syphilis – called neurosyphilis – during which the bacteria invade the nervous system and compromise brain neurons. The condition can be treated with a 14 day regimen of antibiotics but the neurological damage already done cannot be reversed. In addition to vision impairment, the man also suffers from short-term memory issues. He argued at trial that if he had received a simple blood test at the second visit to the Defendant, his condition would have been diagnosed and his long-term health problems would have been avoided. The Defendant argued in part that the man’s HIV sped up the progression of his syphilis to neurosyphilis due to his compromised immune system.

The jury’s award included more than $123,000 for past medical expenses, $75,000 for future medical expenses, $240,000 for loss of a normal life and more than $500,000 for pain, suffering and emotional distress.

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