Encephalitis – what is it and do I have a claim? | Bolt Burdon Kemp Encephalitis – what is it and do I have a claim? | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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Encephalitis – what is it and do I have a claim?

Have you read the book, or seen the film, Brain on Fire?  It’s based on the true story of Susannah Cahalan, a healthy 24 year old news reporter who, one day, wakes up in hospital with no recollection of how she got there.  She has a mystery illness which causes psychosis, seizures, hallucinations and a personality disorder.  After a month, where she was given a number of incorrect diagnoses including alcohol withdrawal syndrome and a psychiatric disorder, she was finally told what was wrong – she had a form of encephalitis.  Susannah has, thankfully, gone on to make a full recovery.

So what is encephalitis?

Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain, often caused by infection.  It can be difficult to spot and is therefore open to misdiagnosis.  I am a solicitor and specialise in representing those who have suffered brain injuries.  I’ve investigated a number of claims where patients have had encephalitis.  In this blog, I discuss what our firm can do to help those who have suffered delays in diagnosis or treatment of encephalitis.

What is encephalitis?

Encephalitis is a neurological condition which causes the brain to swell. It is estimated that there are approximately 6,000 new cases in the United Kingdon each year.  To put that into prospective, it has a higher incidence rate than motor neurone disease and bacterial meningitis.

Encephalitis can be caused by simple viral, bacterial or fungal infections which spread to the brain or as a result of a problem with the body’s immune system.  Viruses, such as cold sores, glandular fever, mumps and flu are common causes of encephalitis.

Encephalitis does not discriminate and affects men and women of all ages.  However patients who are vulnerable are most at risk, such as young children and the elderly.

Difficulties in spotting encephalitis

Certain strains of encephalitis, such as Herpes simplex virus encephalitis (HSE) or autoimmune types, can be treated if caught early.  However diagnosis is not always easy and cannot be made on the basis of symptoms alone.

Encephalitis will need to be diagnosed in hospital, where tests can be done.  Another difficulty in diagnosing the condition is that the symptoms of encephalitis can be similar to other diseases, like meningitis.  This means that the condition can be overlooked and allowed to progress and worsen.

Where encephalitis has been caused by an infection, patients often experience flu-like symptoms such as a high temperature or headache.  The rate of deterioration is variable and can sometimes take a few hours, days or weeks.   If untreated, symptoms will worsen and may include:

  • confusion and drowsiness
  • loss of consciousness (passing out)
  • seizures (fits)
  • unusual personality changes
  • difficulties speaking
  • difficulty moving

Where encephalitis has been caused because the patient’s auto-immune system has attacked the brain, the condition usually takes longer to progress.  Symptoms are similar to infectious encephalitis, but can also include hallucinations, memory loss or difficulties sleeping.

Unfortunately, encephalitis has a high mortality rate and early diagnosis and treatment is crucial to preventing this.  Patients can make a good recovery, although they can also suffer long-term complications, affecting their memory, behaviour, speech, concentration and movement.

If you or one of your loved ones have been affected by a failure of delay in diagnosing encephalitis then you or they may be able to bring a claim for negligence.

Bringing a compensation claim relating to encephalitis

At Bolt Burdon Kemp, our solicitors can assist you in bringing a negligence claim relating to encephalitis.  These claims are complex and advice from a specialist lawyer is needed.  If we can assist you with bringing a claim for compensation, we will instruct independent medical and legal experts to provide evidence to support your case.

Normally, a medical negligence claim will be brought against a hospital, GP practice or individual practitioner for failings in the treatment or diagnosis of encephalitis.

In order to win a medical negligence claim of this nature, we must prove that:

  • The medical treatment provided fell below an acceptable standard and that no other responsible body of medical practitioners would have provided it (this is called breach of duty); and
  • This breach of duty caused injuries, which would not have otherwise occurred if the medical treatment had been acceptable

The following situations may lead to a medical negligence claim for encephalitis:

  • A GP fails to suspect encephalitis, despite noting the symptoms, and the condition progresses – leading to a delay in diagnosis;
  • A hospital mistakes encephalitis for another condition, such as meningitis, stroke or a brain tumour – leading to a delay in diagnosis;
  • A hospital diagnoses encephalitis, but fails to provide appropriate treatment


The purpose of bringing a legal claim is to obtain compensation to try to put you back in the position you would have been in, had the negligence not occurred.

If we can represent you with a claim, we will seek to recover compensation from the Defendant for any pain, injuries and financial losses you suffered because of negligence.  This can include compensation for:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Treatment required – such as surgery, physiotherapy, occupational therapy or rehabilitation
  • Time spent in hospital
  • Physical and psychiatric injuries
  • Reduced life expectancy or death
  • Increased risks of future injury
  • Funeral expenses
  • Loss of financial dependency, if your loved one has passed away as a result of the negligence
  • Loss of earnings
  • Specialist equipment or adaptations needed to manage your condition
  • Care and assistance you have needed from others

The amount of compensation will vary on the extent of injuries and losses suffered.  If we can represent you, we will obtain the necessary evidence to value your claim.

We Can Help

Encephalitis is a serious condition, which can cause devastating consequences.

At Bolt Burdon Kemp, we understand that suffering encephalitis can be a life changing event.  If encephalitis was not appropriately treated, you may be able to bring a legal claim for compensation.  If you can prove negligence in the way you were treated, you could be entitled to compensation.  This should help you get your life back on track, as much as possible.

We provide all our clients with access to practical support services, to help them cope both physically and emotionally with their daily lives.  We can also refer you for independent financial advice and put you in touch with charities who may be able to help you.

We support the Encephalitis Society.

If you have concerns about encephalitis, and would like free legal advice, please contact us.


I am most grateful to Dr Ava Easton, Chief Executive of The Encephalitis Society, who provided her assistance in the preparation of this blog.

Ipek Tugcu is an associate solicitor at Bolt Burdon Kemp specialising in Adult Brain Injury claims.  If you feel you may have a claim or are enquiring on behalf of a loved one, contact Ipek free of charge and in confidence on 020 7288 4849 or at ipektugcu@boltburdonkemp.co.uk.  Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Adult Brain Injury team will contact you.  Find out more about the Adult Brain Injury team.

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