Claim for Steroid Side Effect Compensation Allowed to Proceed

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A High Court judge has allowed a claim for steroid side effect compensation to proceed after denying the manufacturer of the steroid an application to dismiss.

Mr Justice George Birmingham denied Pfizer´s application to dismiss the claim for steroid side effect compensation after hearing how forty-three year old Lorna Savage from Cobh in County Cork had been prescribed Deltacortril by her GP in 1997 to treat vasculitis – a skin disorder in blood vessels are damaged and group together to form an unsightly and irritable rash.

The judge was told that after taking the steroid tablets for several years, Lorna developed Avascular Necrosis – a rare but well-chronicled side effect of Deltacortril – a condition which prevents blood from reaching the bones, which consequently disintegrate as the bone tissue dies. Judge Birmingham heard that, by 2001, Lorna had undergone surgery to have one hip and both knees replaced, was confined to a wheelchair and was taking morphine to manage the pain.

Lorna made a claim for steroid side effect compensation against the GP who originally prescribed the steroid – Dr. Michael Madigan – and her consultant doctor at Cork University Hospital – Dr. M Molloy – who continued to prescribe Deltacortril after Dr. Madigan´s death in 1999. Lorna alleged that her Dr. Madigan had not sufficiently investigated her skin condition and had negligently prescribed Deltacortril when he should have been aware of the potential side effects.

Lorna´s claim for steroid side effect compensation against Dr. Molloy alleged that he had continued to negligently prescribe Deltacortril after Dr. Madigan´s death and had failed to recognise the symptoms of Avascular Necrosis despite her deteriorating condition. A claim for compensation was also made against Pfizer on the grounds that the pharmaceutical company had failed to advise the continued use of Deltacortril could result in Avascular Necrosis and that Pfizer did not give any indication on their literature that drinking alcohol while taking the steroid tablets increased the risk.

The two living defendants and the estate of Dr Madigan denied liability, and Pfizer made an application to have Lorna´s claim for steroid side effect compensation thrown out on the grounds that there had been an “inexcusable delay” in bringing her case to court. After hearing arguments from both sides, Mr Justice George Birmingham determined that the delay in bringing the case to court was “excusable” as the delay had been attributable to Lorna having to undergo more surgery.

The judge said that the prolonged recovery period from her recent surgery had prevented Lorna from instructing her solicitors and this, he considered, was a valid reason for the delay. Judge Birmingham refused Pfizer´s application to throw out the case and ordered that Lorna´s claim for steroid side effect compensation be scheduled for a hearing in the High Court later this year.