$5 million settlement for delay in diagnosis of cancer

2008 Trial Lawyers Report

Two year delay in diagnosis of chordoma

This case involves a two year delay in diagnosis of a cancer called a chordoma in a 39 year old woman. The defendant is a staff radiologist from Lahey Clinic. The plaintiff died just a few days after settling the claim. The plaintiff’s contention was that in August 2004, the defendant radiologist overlooked a large tumor on MRI at the base of her spine. The tumor was not discovered for nearly two more years, by a different radiologist at a different hospital. By then it was too late.

The plaintiff was a healthy woman. She exercised regularly. Ironically, she taught Suffolk University students about cancer management and radiation therapy. And she knew first hand about chordomas because her father had had one years earlier. His was diagnosed and removed and today he is fine.

In the winter of 2003, the plaintiff fell and started feeling some back pain that never quite went away. In July 2004, her Primary Care Physician referred her to a neurosurgeon at Lahey Clinic for evaluation of the low back pain. As part of the workup, the neurosurgeon ordered an MRI.

The 08/06/04 MRI was read by the defendant radiologist as showing only minor changes in the plaintiff’s spine. The plaintiff’s claim is that the MRI actually showed a large tumor at the base of the spine, pressing on the nerves, causing the back pain. The defendant testified that he saw something there, but thought it was stool and so, he didn’t even report it.

For the next year and a half, the plaintiff tried to get relief from the back pain. She saw chiropractors and took pain relievers. Nothing worked. Finally, she saw a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital. In May 2006 a CT scan of the spine showed a 9 centimeter tumor at the base of the plaintiff’s spine. The next day, an MRI confirmed the presence of the large tumor that had spread beyond the spine and invaded the surrounding blood vessels.

As the plaintiff was preparing to start cancer treatments, her oncologist discovered that the 2004 MRI reported as normal by the defendant, was anything but normal. The oncologist learned that the 2004 MRI showed the very same tumor at only half its current size. The plaintiff’s claim is that in the nearly two years between scans, the tumor had doubled in size, entered the blood stream and spread to the plaintiff’s lungs. The plaintiff’s contention is that in that time, the cancer went from curable to incurable.

The plaintiff underwent surgeries, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. She tried traditional and experimental treatments. She spent the last few months of her life in the hospital trying to find relief from the pain.

When asked during discovery about the misread, the defendant explained that he saw the area where the tumor was eventually found, but, believed it to be stool. He admitted that he should have ordered more testing and that more testing would have led to diagnosis and treatment nearly two years earlier.

The case was scheduled for a March trial in Lowell. It settled for Five Million ($5,000,000.00) dollars.

Lubin & Meyer attorneys represented the plaintiff in this lawsuit involving the delay in diagnosis of chordoma cancer.

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