Adams, et al. v. Laboratory Corp. – Failure to Diagnose Spurs Lawsuit

The most common allegation made in medical malpractice litigation is that of a misdiagnoses. That was established in a study published late last year in the JAMA Internal Medicine Journal, which revealed 72 percent of all malpractice claims against primary care doctors were the result of a doctor who either failed to diagnose the correct condition, failed to identify there was a illness or disease or who diagnosed the wrong disease.
Our Asheville medical malpractice lawyers recognize that a case of misdiagnosis can have serious consequences, when you consider that virtually all action – or inaction – a patient takes with regard to his or her health is based upon that. We trust doctors and other health care workers to get it right – or at least to meet the reasonable standard of care in reaching the conclusion they do. When they fail in this regard, it could be grounds for litigation, particularly if a patient suffers severe or lasting problems as a result of the error.

Adams, et al. v. Laboratory Corp. of America, the assertion from the plaintiff was that technicians of a laboratory failed to alert her and her doctor to the fact that cancer had been detected in her cervix until such time that the cancer had spread, requiring intensive and evasive treatments.

According to court records, the patient received five Pap smear tests over the course of a 2.5-year period starting in January 2006. The doctor took scrapings from her cervix, placed them on a slide and then sent those slides to the laboratory for a determination of whether there were abnormalities. At no time did the laboratory workers indicate abnormalities.

However, in August 2009, the patient went to the doctor, complaining of bleeding. It was at that time that the cancer was identified, and it had spread to her lymph nodes, making it especially difficult to treat.

She and her husband subsequently filed a lawsuit against the laboratory and its workers, indicating the failure to identify the precancerous cells on those slides could have cost her her life.

In order to prove the laboratory and technicians had breached the acceptable standard of care, the plaintiff secured an expert witness with an extensive, 40-year professional background in pathology and cytopathology. She traveled to the lab and reviewed the slides at the laboratory, using the same model of microscope as those used by the lab. She did not mix the slides with others, and she already knew the patient had been diagnosed with cervical cancer.

After 1.5 hours, she concluded the actions of the lab technicians fell short of the applicable standard of care, as they should have been able to identify the precancerous cells on the slides.

The lab moved to omit the doctor’s expert testimony, claiming her methodology lacked merit under the Daubert standard. This position was primarily supported by the fact that the witness hadn’t used a “blind test” in her review of the evidence. The trial court agreed, omitted her testimony and granted the defense motion for summary judgment on the grounds the plaintiff failed to present enough evidence indicating the defendant breached the applicable standard of care.

Upon appeal, however, that finding was reversed. The purpose of the Daubert standard is to ensure the courts serve as gatekeepers for the admission of medical or scientific evidence. It’s critical that such evidence not be speculative or unreliable.

Here, that was not the case. The federal appellate court determined the expert was well-qualified to testify about the standard of care used by the cytotehnologists at the lab, and that the methodology she used was reliable. To whatever degree it fell short, the court ruled, was a matter for a jury to decide.

Contact the North Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Adams, et al. v. Laboratory Corp. of America, July 29, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

More Blog Entries:
Gallant v. MacDowell: Medical Malpractice and the Discovery Rule, July 14, 2014, Asheville Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog

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