A Philadelphia medical malpractice jury took two-and-a-half hours after a six-day trial that ended on March 6, 2018 to award the estate of a 65-year-old man who died of late-diagnosed liver cancer and his surviving wife the total sum of $6 million. The Philadelphia medical malpractice jury allocated $5 million for the survival claim and $1 million for the wrongful death claim.
The Philadelphia medical malpractice jury determined that the only remaining defendant doctor was responsible for 32% of the verdict, and that the other two defendant doctors, a gastroenterologist and a primary care physician, both of whom settled the claims against them before trial, were responsible for 38% and 30% of the verdict, respectively.
The Alleged Underlying Facts
The man had a history of cirrhosis and hepatitis C that were diagnosed in 2007. In 2009, the man became the patient of both the defendant gastroenterologist and the defendant primary care physician. In November 2010, the man became the patient of the defendant hematologist/oncologist, who treated him for anemia and other medical conditions.
The defendant primary care physician ordered an ultrasound of the man’s abdomen in December 2010. The radiologist who performed the ultrasound recommended an MRI of the man’s liver because an MRI offers a better method of detecting liver cancer compared to an ultrasound. Despite this recommendation, the defendant primary care physician did not order an MRI.
All three defendant doctors treated the man between December 8, 2010 and April 27, 2013, yet none of them ordered an MRI of the man’s abdomen. On April 27, 2013, the man had blood in his stool and was admitted to a local hospital, where a CT scan of his abdomen and pelvis was ordered to rule out gastrointestinal bleeding, but no MRI was ordered. The radiologist who interpreted the CT scan nonetheless recommended that the man have an abdominal MRI, which none of the three defendant doctors ordered.
The defendant gastroenterologist ordered a screening ultrasound in June 2014 that did not show a liver mass. However, on October 5, 2014, the man was admitted to the hospital due to severe abdominal pain. A CT scan revealed a suspected ruptured liver mass that was confirmed by an MRI that was performed the following day.
The man underwent a liver biopsy in the hospital that confirmed that the man had cancer and the cancer originated in the liver mass but he was considered a poor candidate for surgery. He died on November 9, 2014.
The Philadelphia medical malpractice plaintiff alleged that the defendant doctors negligently failed to order MRIs on two occasions, which would have led to an earlier diagnosis of liver cancer and that the delay constituted medical negligence that caused harm.
The defense argued that the man had numerous previous radiology studies that did not detect liver cancer and that the man showed no signs of having liver cancer. The defendant hematologist/oncologist further argued that the man had already “outlived his life expectancy” based on his medical history of hepatitis C, cirrhosis, anemia, diabetes, thrombocytopenia, atrial fibrillation, and obstructive sleep apnea.
The defendant hematologist/oncologist’s lawyer stated after the Philadelphia medical malpractice jury returned its verdict against his client, “In my view, the [jury’s] award is a joke, actually. The reason I say that is the decedent was 65 at the time of his death, had a very extensive medical history and there was expert testimony from the defense that he basically had lived out his life expectancy because of his numerous co-morbidities.”
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