In June 2014, a Boston medical malpractice jury found in favor of a Boston woman whose lung cancer was allegedly misdiagnosed (undiagnosed) by a hospital radiologist, leading to the insidious spread of the cancer throughout her body and her painful death in August 2008 at the age of 47, leaving behind a grieving daughter who is now 33 years old. The daughter was the medical malpractice plaintiff who filed the medical malpractice case on behalf of her mother.
The mother had gone to the hospital’s emergency room in October 2006 because of her persistent cough. An emergency room physician ordered a chest x-ray in order to rule out pneumonia. The defendant radiologist who read the imaging study interpreted the chest x-ray as normal. The woman was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection, was prescribed antibiotics, and was sent home.
The medical malpractice plaintiff alleged that the chest x-ray showed a 1.5-centimeter nodule located in the woman’s upper right lung, which was missed by the radiologist. Thirteen months after her initial visit to the hospital emergency room, the woman returned to the same emergency room because her symptoms had gotten worse.
A doctor ordered a CT scan during the second emergency room visit, which showed that she had advanced lung cancer by that time. The plaintiff alleged that the 1.5-centimeter nodule that had been present thirteen months earlier had grown in size to between 2.5 and 3.0 centimeters, and by then her mother had numerous additional nodules in her lungs that had not been present at the time of the original chest x-ray. Over the course of the next seven months, the lung cancer spread to the woman’s liver, kidney, pubic bone, and her spine.
The defendant radiologist reportedly observed areas of opacity in the chest x-ray after the woman was diagnosed with cancer, but he contended that the areas of opacity were not diagnostic of lung cancer. The radiologist contended that he was not advised that the woman had a family history of lung cancer (her mother died of lung cancer) and that she had a long history of smoking (she had smoked for 30 years).
The hospital took the position that the radiologist did not breach the applicable standard of care in reading the woman’s chest x-ray and that her lung cancer was incurable at the time of the first emergency room visit. The defense has indicated that it intends to ask for a new trial and also questions the amount of the verdict.
The $11.7 million medical malpractice verdict is the largest medical malpractice verdict in Massachusetts so far this year.
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