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Challenges in Litigating Lyme Disease Cases

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Carried by ticks and transmitted to humans through bites, Lyme disease is a serious bacterial infection that can result in life-changing consequences. The disease itself can often be difficult to diagnose, especially in light of flawed guidelines that medical professionals use to determine whether or not to start Lyme disease treatment. Litigating a Lyme disease case, such as a wrongful death or medical malpractice/negligence suit, presents significant challenges to the attorneys representing disease victims and their family members. These cases require the experience and knowledge of accomplished personal injury attorneys who understand the disease and the factors behind faulty medical diagnoses that may have resulted in serious illness or death. 

The Joseph Elone Case

17 year-old Joseph Elone was bitten by a tick infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium responsible for Lyme disease, at some point during his Rhode Island summer camp experience in the summer of 2013. Soon after returning home, he began to experience symptoms like a sore throat and a persistent cough. Later, he would develop chills, joint aches, and fatigue. He was evaluated twice by family pediatricians; both times, the medical professionals missed a Lyme disease diagnosis.

Eventually, he would be tested for Lyme disease using an antibody test. The results came back negative. The disease pathogens were present in his system, yet the diagnostic test failed to properly pinpoint them, a common flaw in the testing protocol. The pathogens continued to spread throughout young Joseph’s body, and eventually he collapsed on his family’s front lawn. After being rushed to the emergency room, Joseph succumbed to the infection and passed away. An autopsy revealed that the disease pathogens had infected his heart, lungs, and brain. 

Failure in Testing and Diagnosis

Typically, those infected with Lyme disease will exhibit a characteristic target-shaped rash at the tick bite location. In Joseph’s case, he did not present to his pediatrician with a rash. After ruling out other infectious diseases, his doctors eventually had him tested for the presence of Lyme disease antibodies. This specific test is known for returning a significant number of false negatives. 

Joseph presented with numerous other symptoms that are characteristic of Lyme disease infection. However, in the absence of a positive antibody test and the target-shaped rash, Joseph’s medical team followed diagnostic guidelines published by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA). In other words, doctors did not suspect Lyme disease until it was too late

Wrongful Death

Joseph Elone’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2015, selecting experienced personal injury law firm Ronemus & Vilensky, LLP, to represent them. The wrongful death suit is based on two major factors: failure to adequate and accurately diagnose Joseph’s infection, and negligence/neglect in care received in the emergency room after he had collapsed. It is as yet unclear whether the case will be settled or will proceed to a court hearing. 

The suit seeks financial compensation for funeral expenses and the loss of Joseph Elone. His family hopes that by pursuing this case, they can encourage the medical community to revisit diagnostic guidelines centered on Lyme disease infections and potentially prevent other untimely and tragic deaths.