On December 5, 2014, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, in a non-precedential decision, affirmed a verdict in favor of the medical malpractice defendants in a case where the defendant physician acknowledged that he had breached the standard of care but denied that the breach caused injury to the patient. In particular, the defendant physician failed to inform the patient, who had a prior history of melanoma, that a CT scan of her chest on May 30, 2008 showed a 6.4 mm nodule in the right lower lobe of her lung and that the radiologist recommended a follow-up in three months.
The Underlying Facts
In 2006, the patient had a nodule on her left upper arm surgically removed that was determined to be melanoma but the two sentinel lymph nodes that were also removed at that time indicated no metastases had occurred through her lymphatic system.
On May 30, 2008, the woman was admitted to the hospital, complaining of shortness of breath. A chest CT scan was performed that ruled out a pulmonary embolism but showed a lung nodule that was not disclosed by the defendant physician to the woman, which the defendant physician stipulated was a breach of the standard of care.
On July 23, 2009, the woman fell while at work, struck her head, and was brought to the hospital where an MRI showed that she had fifteen masses in her brain. A chest CT scan showed that the nodule in her lung had increased in size since it was first detected in 2008. She was transferred to another hospital where her brain tumors were biopsied and were determined to be metastatic melanoma (her lung nodule was not biopsied but all medical experts agreed that it was metastatic melanoma, but they disagreed whether she had brain tumors at the time of the 2008 chest CT scan). The woman died on August 11, 2011.
The administrators of the woman’s estate filed a Pennsylvania medical malpractice case against the defendant physician and the hospital. The medical malpractice case was tried before a jury on November 18 and 19, 2013. The jury found that the defendant physician’s medical negligence was not a factual cause of harm to the woman. The plaintiffs filed a motion for new trial, which the trial court denied, and then they filed an appeal to the Superior Court.
The Superior Court had to decide if the trial court acted capriciously, abused its discretion, or committed an error of law that controlled the outcome of the case in denying the plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial. In doing so, the Superior Court had to consider whether, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict winner, a new trial would produce a different verdict and if there was any support in the record for the trial court’s decision to deny a new trial.
The Superior Court noted that one of the plaintiffs’ medical experts testified at trial that metastatic melanoma is among the more aggressive tumors and that it generally responds poorly to most treatments. One of the defendants’ medical experts testified at trial that “my experience has been that patients with brain metastases have a very poor prognosis in melanoma. And so therefore, my opinion would be that her prognosis would have not been a favorable one in 2008.” Another of the defendants’ experts testified that the cancer had spread to the woman’s brain prior to 2006 and that “once the tumor metastasizes beyond the primary site and is not in the regional lymph nodes, these people die of their disease. The only question is when. … it’s difficult to prove more intensive testing actually changes the outcome. If you test more intensely, you find the disease earlier, we initiate the treatment earlier, prolongs life somewhat; however, it doesn’t cure you. You still die. The outcome is still the same.”
The Superior Court stated that the jury found that the failure of the defendant physician to inform the woman of the recommendation to follow-up within three months of his treatment of her was not a factual cause of the harm she suffered and that “viewing this evidence in the light most favorable to Appellees, as verdict winner, we cannot conclude a new trial would result in a different verdict … After due consideration of the evidence, we conclude this was a reasonable conclusion … Therefore, we reject Appellants’ argument that the jury verdict was against the clear weight of the evidence.”
Source Thomas Slee and Kevin R. Miley and Frank B. Miley, Jr., Administrators of the Estate of Mary Slee, Deceased v. Frank Mozdy, M.D. and the Chambersburg Hospital, No. 613 MDA 2014.
If you or a family member may have suffered injury or other substantial harm as a result of medical negligence in Pennsylvania or in another U.S. state, you should promptly consult with a Pennsylvania medical malpractice attorney or a medical malpractice attorney in your state who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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