A Pennsylvania woman has been awarded $3.35 million in compensation because, according to a state court jury, her radiologists dismissed evidence of breast cancer that turned up in mammogram screenings, The Intelligencer reports. Ultimately diagnosed in 2013, she was forced to confront Stage 3 cancer, undergoing a battery of grueling treatments.
Radiologists Held Liable In Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
The woman, who hails from Bensalem, accused two radiologists, Dr. Roy M. Prager and Dr. Paul J. Weiser, failed to diagnose her case of breast cancer, despite a series of mammogram tests conducted between 2012 and 2013.
As her attorney later argued at trial, the radiologists had picked up on signs of calcification during these tests, but deemed the deposits of calcium benign. Instead of suggesting follow-up, the doctors’ reports advised only annual follow-up visits. Key to the case was that a previous doctor had already noticed suspect calcifications as early as 2009, but three years later, one 2012 report clearly read, “there is no mammographic evidence of malignancy.” The doctors, who were working at St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne, were wrong.
Late Cancer Diagnosis
The woman had breast cancer, but that fact would only be acknowledged in October of 2013, when she told her gynecologist about a strange lump in her armpit. The physician discovered a second lump in her breast and quickly ordered a series of tests. The cancer, as these later tests would reveal, had metastasized, spreading from the woman’s breasts to her lymph nodes. Metastasis, as every cancer patient is well aware, makes treatment far more difficult and, even after successful therapies, increases the risk of relapse.
The woman was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.
Early Cancer Diagnosis & The “Loss Of Chance” Doctrine
Early diagnosis is essential to combatting cancer. Treatments for breast cancer, in recent decades, have become extraordinarily effective. As the American Cancer Society reports, women who are diagnosed with the disease in its first stage, when cancer cells are confined to the ducts or lobules inside the breast, have a nearly 100% survival rate.
Although breast cancer remains one of the most treatable human cancers, metastasis drops this promising statistic significantly. At stage 3, women have a 72% chance of surviving for five years. In her case, the plaintiff made two arguments on this point, citing a legal doctrine, known as “loss of chance,” that is recognized in Pennsylvania courts. To begin with, she argued that the radiologists’ failure to properly diagnose her cancer resulted in a diminished chance of survival. In some courts, including those of Pennsylvania, a diminished chance of survival is recognized as a form of harm, whether or not the patient actually survives.
States That Recognize Loss Of Chance
Alongside Pennsylvania, the following jurisdictions recognize “loss of chance” as a financially-compensable form of loss in medical malpractice lawsuits:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- South Dakota
- Washington, D.C.
- West Virginia
Most “loss of chance” lawsuits would lose unless the patient can also prove that the delay in diagnosis led to more rigorous and expensive treatments than would have been attempted otherwise. This is the Bensalem plaintiff’s second argument: the delay in diagnosis forced her to undergo a series of agonizing surgeries. Had her cancer been diagnosed properly, she said, these extra treatments would have been unnecessary.
We mentioned an additional problem earlier, namely that a delayed cancer diagnosis can make relapse more likely. Thankfully, the patient’s cancer is now in remission, but, as her Philadelphia attorney told The Intelligencer, “now every day of her life she has to worry about when and if this cancer is going to come back.”
$3.35 Million In Compensation
The Pennsylvania state jury was convinced by the plaintiff’s arguments. On August 30, 2017, after days of trial, the jury announced that Dr. Roy M. Prager and Dr. Paul J. Weiser had acted negligently in treating their patients, falling below the accepted standard of medical care. The jurors also held the hospital, St. Mary Medical Center, liable for the woman’s injuries, ordering the three defendants to pay $3.35 million in damages.