Hopkins ordered to pay $1,054,000 in lawsuit Man died after catching meningitis at hospital

February 06, 1996|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore City Circuit Court jury yesterday ordered Johns Hopkins Hospital to pay more than $1 million to the mother of a Fairfax, Va., man who died two years after contracting meningitis after a surgical procedure at the hospital.

The $1,054,000 award was returned after a nine-day trial before Judge Clifton J. Gordy Jr.

The suit was filed by Alice Hunkler, who was seeking damages in the death of her son, Mark Tavelli.

Mr. Tavelli, who as a child suffered from hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain, entered Hopkins in December 1990 to have fluid drained from cysts on his spine and on the area where the spine meets the brain, said attorney Stephen Snyder, who with lawyers Robert Weltchek and Dwayne Brown represented Ms. Hunkler.

Mr. Tavelli successfully underwent a surgical procedure Dec. 17, 1990, in which shunts were inserted into the cysts and the fluid drained through a catheter, the suit said.

On Dec. 26, Mr. Tavelli developed a post-surgical case of meningitis, which is an inflammation of the lining of the brain, with symptoms of headaches, neck pain, high blood pressure, fever, rapid respiration and pulse and double vision, Mr. Snyder said.

To treat meningitis, antibiotics are administered intravenously. But if correct diagnosis and treatment do not occur quickly, Mr. Snyder said, brain damage can result, and that is what happened to Mr. Tavelli.

The suit alleged that inexperienced neurosurgical residents supervised Mr. Tavelli's care and did not diagnose the meningitis until Dec. 27, "after it had gone untreated for one day," Mr. Snyder said.

As a result, Mr. Tavelli became comatose and had to be put on a respirator. He suffered permanent brain damage and became quadriplegic. He died 2 1/2 years later, at age 34, Mr. Snyder said.

Deborah S. Byrnes, who represented Hopkins, argued that the hospital was not negligent and that Mr. Tavelli died as a result of his chronic disease.

"Naturally we're very disappointed," she said.

She said that Hopkins planned to appeal the verdict.

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