A California appellate court recently upheld a $550,000 medical malpractice verdict for the wrongful death of a woman whose doctor failed to timely diagnose her with breast cancer.
The cancer was reportedly already in the later stages when she scheduled her first appointment for a small lump. But the doctor, after reviewing a mammogram and an ultrasound, indicated the patient had benign cysts and should simply cut back on caffeine. The patient, with a long familial history of fatal breast cancer, returned 18 months later with other symptoms. By then, the cancer was so far progressed, there was not much treatment could do. She died little more than a year later.
Her family sued the doctor and the hospital in Uriell v. Regents of UC, arguing defendant doctor breached the applicable standard of care for declining to order an MRI or biopsy after that first appointment, given the patient’s genetic propensity to develop the disease.
Cases like this reveal it’s sometimes not so much what doctors do but what they fail to do that is the most harmful. Not every adverse medical outcome can be blamed on health care professionals. After all, we’re all going to die some day and sometimes, people get sick and it’s no one else’s fault. However, we do rely on medical doctors to provide us with sound, informed advice about our health and to provide the best quality care under the circumstances.
Missed diagnosis is the No. 1 most common malpractice accusation, according to a recent report by Harvard Medical School. In fact, they account for 72 percent of all claims against primary care physicians.
These errors include failing to make the appropriate referral to a specialist, rushing through a physical exam, neglecting to follow up on an abnormal test or not properly reading test results.
The test of whether these cases warrant an injury lawsuit is not whether the outcome was bad, but rather whether the doctor acted appropriately under the circumstances. This can only be proven via an expert witness with a similar degree of education and experience as the defendant.
In this case, an expert witness for plaintiffs (widower and minor children) opined that had the physician ordered a biopsy at the first visit – something that should have happened given patient’s history – there was a reasonable degree of medical probability the patient would have received the proper diagnosis.
Defendants then attempted to argue it would not have mattered whether patient had received the proper diagnosis at that time because her form of cancer was already advanced and is usually fatal. They argued there was no proof an earlier diagnosis would have prolonged her life. Plaintiff experts countered treatment might have meant another 10 to 15 years of life for the patient, even if ultimately she would have succumbed to the disease.
Ultimately, trial court found in favor of plaintiffs and jurors awarded $550,000. That verdict was later upheld on appeal, with the appellate panel rejecting defense argument that plaintiff’s expert witness lacked adequate foundation on which to base his opinion.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Uriell v. Regents of UC, Feb. 20, 2015, California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One
More Blog Entries:
Ratledge v. Purdue – Medical Malpractice Claims Require Expert Witness, March 2, 2015, Spartanburg Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog