A Snakebite Resulted in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit: Here’s Why
On May 17, 2019, 62-year-old Priscilla Meredith was bitten by a canebrake rattlesnake while gardening at her home near the Georgia coast. When Meredith arrived at the ER, the doctor did not treat her with antivenom but instead called the Georgia poison control helpline. Helpline workers told the ER doctor not to give Meredith antivenom unless swelling and bruising formed at the site of the bite. Despite her obvious reactions to the poisonous snakebite, including nausea, breathing problems, and other organ damage, Meredith did not receive the antivenom she so badly needed.
She went into cardiac arrest soon thereafter, but hospital doctors did not think it was related to the incident and treated her as if she were not just bitten by a poisonous snake. Meredith died two days later. As a result, Meredith’s husband filed a wrongful death claim against Southeast Georgia Health System’s Brunswick campus, Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital, and Emory University, along with several doctors.
This horrifying story exemplifies serious, fatal negligence on behalf of the professionals who are trained to save lives, not take them. Although these doctors did not have criminal intent in withholding the much-needed antivenom from the victim, they did demonstrate severe negligence. The lawsuit was just filed in May 2021, so we have yet to see how this civil suit plays out.
However, we can learn from this tragedy.
In our years of experience as personal injury lawyers, we think we have seen it all until we haven’t. Stories like Meredith’s remind us of the dangers people can suffer at the hands of even the most trusted individuals and businesses. With rattlesnake season in full swing in Colorado, there is no better time to discuss snakebite risks, remedies, and what you can do if you suffered through no fault of your own.
Symptoms of Venomous Snakebites
Colorado is home to 29 snake species, but only 3 species are venomous: The western massasauga rattlesnake, the midget faded rattlesnake, and the prairie rattlesnake. Although these are the only venomous snakes in Colorado, know that the most common venomous snakebites are caused by pit vipers and coral snakes. If you’re bitten by a venomous snake, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Bloody wound discharge
- Excessive bleeding and difficulty with clotting of blood
- Fang marks in the skin and swelling at the site of the bite
- Severe pain at the bite site
- Discoloration, such as redness and bruising
- Enlarged lymph nodes in the area affected
- Blurred vision
- Excessive sweating
- Increased thirst
- Loss of muscle coordination
- Nausea and vomiting
- Numbness and tingling, especially in the mouth
- Rapid pulse
- Altered mental state
- Breathing difficulties
Treatment for Snakebites
First and foremost, call 9-1-1 immediately if you or someone you know has been bitten by a snake. While waiting for help, The Johns Hopkins Hospital advises you to do the following:
- Wash the bite with soap and water
- Keep the bitten area still and lower than the heart
- Cover the area with a clean, cool compress or a moist dressing to ease swelling and discomfort
- Monitor breathing and heart rate
- Remove all rings, watches, and constrictive clothing, in case of swelling
- Note the time of the bite so that it can be reported to an ER healthcare provider if needed
- Try to remember to draw a circle around the affected area and mark the time of the bite and the initial reaction, as well as redraw the circle around the site of injury marking the progression of time
- Try to remember what the snake looks like, its size, and the type of snake if you know it, in order to tell the emergency room staff
- Don't apply a tourniquet
- Don't try to suck the venom out
Once you arrive at the ER, you may be treated with the following:
- Antibiotics to prevent or treat developing infections
- Medicine to treat your pain
- A special type of antivenin depending on the type of snake that bit you and the severity of your symptoms
Snakebites and Premises Liability
Property owners are responsible for removing hazards that could cause or create a risk of injuries or death. When a property owner fails to do so, they put their visitors’ health and lives on the line. In regard to snakebites, for instance, zookeepers would likely be held responsible if their snakes bit any visitor. Homeowners with pet snakes would likely be held responsible if their snake escaped its cage and bit a visitor or neighbor. These are examples of situations in which property owners could be liable for snakebites and the resulting damage.
Snakebites and Wrongful Death
As you can see from the case described above, healthcare workers and other individuals could be held responsible for wrongful deaths arising out of snakebites. In Priscilla Meredith’s case, it was obvious that Meredith needed antivenom. She was displaying the textbook symptoms of a snakebite reaction, yet was denied the healthcare she needed to survive. As a result, her husband had grounds to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospitals and doctors involved in the situation.
Referring to the premises liability examples, parties like zookeepers and homeowners could be held responsible for deaths resulting from snakebites in limited situations.
Filing a Lawsuit? We Can Help.
Our personal injury lawyers at Gerash Steiner & Blanton, P.C. believe pain and suffering should not go unpunished if inflicted through negligence and carelessness. As such, we encourage you to take legal actions if you or someone you love was hurt or killed through no fault of their own. To learn if you may have a claim, please reach out to our lawyers online or at (303) 732-5048!