Health authority must pay €200k in compensation for "totally deaf" misdiagnosis of child with autism


Court sentence
© Marilyn Nieves/

"Crass medical errors" led to a child in Galicia, Spain being misdiagnosed as "totally, incurably deaf"—the real complaint of autism overlooked—and then submitted to unnecessary cochlear implant operations causing unilateral deafness.

A compensation order of €200,000 was this month imposed by a High Court on Spain's northwestern most public health authority, Sergas in Galicia, after hearing an appeal case that underlines the grave perils of diagnosis not following protocol. The tribunal stressed that "scientific literature points out that 77% of autistic children present symptoms of hearing loss, but that the hypothetical deafness can be differentiated from real autism with relative ease through an analysis of behavioural patterns."

"We find ourselves before a clear case of diagnostic error caused by a mistaken interpretation of the results of the auditory evoked potentials test. In effect, other pathologies were not ruled out, as protocol dictates, by using complementary psychological, neurological, and audiometric tests," the court stressed.

In 2004 and 2005, a two-and-a-half year old child was submitted to two cochlear implant operations on the same ear in a Vigo hospital, surgery carried out "without fully following diagnostic measures and in the belief that those submitted privately were accurate", the tribunal declared. The child was given a cochlear implant but rejected it. In 2006, a teacher began to suspect that the child's behavioural symptoms were not hearing-based. Sergas finally referred the case to a specialist centre in Barcelona, where the child was, this time, correctly diagnosed as suffering from autism

But the correct diagnosis could not make amends for the hearing lost through unnecessary surgery. The court decision, which overturned an earlier court decision setting compensation at €150,000 highlighted "the suffering involved, the time spent hospitalised, the failure of the implant to adapt and, ultimately, the loss of hearing in a healthy ear."

"This is not a case of an opportunity lost, but of successive and crass medical errors that were decisive in an infraction of the lex artis, the medical actions on this occasion not denying the patient certain expectations of a cure but, conversely, being actions that caused the damaging result, and without which this damage would not have occured," the tribunal clarified.

Source: LegalToday/20 Minutos