Colon cancer wrongful death suit settles for $500,000

2004 Medical Malpractice Settlement Report

Docs settle pre-trial in medical malpractice injury case: failure to diagnose and treat colon cancer

The plaintiff’s decedent went to see her primary care physician (PCP) in August of 1992. At this visit, she reported an episode of bright red blood per rectum, and vague abdominal discomfort. The PCP performed an abdominal exam that was unremarkable, and a rectal exam that revealed no blood in her stool. The PCP ordered a barium enema.

In September of 1992, the plaintiff’s decedent underwent the barium enema. The interpreting radiologist, Defendant #1, reported scattered filling defects throughout the transverse colon and cecum, and indicated that they probably represented stool. His impression was "unremarkable examination with the reservations described above. " The plaintiff expected to present expert medical testimony at trial, which indicated that the barium enema was misread by the defendant radiologist. The plaintiff expected to present expert medical testimony indicating that the barium enema was consistent with polyps/early colon cancer, which needed to be investigated further.

After the barium enema, the plaintiff’s decedent returned to see her PCP. He noted that her barium enema was "grossly normal. " And told her to go on with her life as usual. The plaintiff’s decedent continued to treat with her PCP through 1995 without any major health issues. In June of 1995, the plaintiff’s decedent presented to her PCP with a 2-day history of bright red rectal bleeding. Physical exam revealed a benign abdomen, and an external hemorrhoid, with a small amount of clotted blood on it. Her PCP noted that the bleeding was most likely secondary to an external hemorrhoid but he referred her to a surgeon for further evaluation. There was no documentation in the medical record that plaintiff’s decedent was evaluated by a surgeon after this appointment.

In September of 1995, the plaintiff’s decedent returned to see her PCP, reporting rectal pain. Rectal exam was negative. The PCP noted that the plaintiff’s decedent would be referred to a surgeon—Defendant #2 - for further evaluation. The plaintiff’s decedent was seen by the defendant surgeon in October of 1995. The records from the surgeon’s office indicate that he was aware of her past history relating to her abdominal/colon issues. At this visit, plaintiff’s decedent reported that there was some discomfort on her right side, and that food seems to sit in her abdomen after she ate. Rectal exam revealed a little tag, a healed fissure in the 12 o'clock position, two small hemorrhoids in the 5 and 7 o'clock positions, and no bleeding or palpable masses. The defendant surgeon indicated that he believed the problems were primarily psychological. His assessment was somatoform disorder, and he prescribed a trial dose of Trazodone, an antidepressant medication. The plan was for the plaintiff’s decedent to return in 2 or 3 weeks to assess her response. At no point in time did the defendant surgeon order or perform any testing to examine her colon despite her history of rectal bleeding.

Plaintiff’s decedent returned to see the surgeon 2 weeks later. She reported that she stopped the Trazodone as it made her sleep too soundly. The defendant surgeon documented that he assured plaintiff’s decedent that there was no sign of serious digestive system disease. He noted that she should follow-up routinely with her PCP.

In April of 1996, plaintiff’s decedent began complaining of right upper quadrant pain. A few days after her complaints, her PCP scheduled her to undergo an ultrasound that revealed two lesions on her liver. An abdominal and pelvic CT scan revealed a 3-cm. mass on her colon associated with multiple liver lesions. The interpreting radiologist diagnosed her with metastatic colon cancer. Plaintiff’s decedent underwent surgery to remove a large portion of her colon. It was found at that time that the cancer had spread outside her colon to her lymph nodes and her liver. Plaintiff’s decedent underwent chemotherapy but she died of metastatic colon cancer at 70 years old in July of 1997.

The defendant expected to present expert medical opinions that they complied with the standard of care. The defendant radiologist was expected to offer expert testimony that more likely than not the cancer was not present in 1992 when he interpreted the barium enema. Further, the defendant surgeon was expected to contend that the problems complained of by the plaintiff’s decedent were most likely psychological and not related to her colon cancer. The defendant surgeon was also expected to put forth expert medical testimony that the prognosis of the plaintiff’s decedent was not changed from the time he saw her and when she was diagnosed.

Lubin & Meyer attorneys represented the plaintiff in this colon cancer medical malpractice lawsuit.

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