A woman´s claim for the side effects of steroid medication has been allowed to proceed after a judge ruled that the delay in making the claim was justified.
Lorna Savage (43) from Cobh in County Cork was prescribed the steroid Deltacortil by her GP Dr Michael Madigan in 1997 to treat vasculitis – a condition in which the blood vessels are damaged and cause an irritable rash.
Within a few years of taking the steroid medication, Lorna had developed Avascular Necrosis – a rare but acknowledged side effect of Deltacortril, which interrupts the passage of blood to the bones, causing the bone tissue to die and the bone collapse.
By 2001 – when she was thirty-one years of age – Lorna had both knees and a hip joint replaced, and her condition had deteriorated to such an extent that she was confined to a wheelchair. Lorna still has to take morphine to manage her pain.
After seeking legal advice, Lorna made a claim for the side effects of steroid medication against the estate of her former GP (who died in 1999), her consultant at Cork University Hospital Dr MG Molloy – who also prescribed the medication for her – and Pfizer, the manufacturer of Deltracortil.
In her claim against the two doctors, Lorna alleged that they had both acted negligently by prescribing the steroid medication for her, that both had failed to investigate her symptoms thoroughly, and that both had failed to identify that she was displaying the symptoms of Avascular Necrosis.
Lorna alleged that Pfizer was negligent by failing to provide adequate warning in the literature about Deltacortril that the steroid´s continued use could cause Avascular Necrosis. There was also no warning to advise against the drinking of alcohol while taking the medication.
The estate of Dr Madigan, the Health Service Executive (of behalf of Dr Molloy) and Pfizer each deny their liability for the side effects experienced by Lorna, and Pfizer attempted to get Lorna´s claim for the side effects to steroid medication dismissed on the grounds of “an inordinate and inexcusable delay” in bringing her claim to court.
However, at Dublin High Court, Mr Justice George Birmingham dismissed Pfizer´s application – finding that the delay was excusable due to Lorna having recently undergone multiple surgeries. Judge Birmingham said that Lorna had been unable to brief her solicitors while she was recovering from the surgeries and he listed the case for a full court hearing later in the year.