Failure to Advise Follow-up in Lung Cancer Death: $9.86M Verdict
Jury finds gross negligence in lung cancer diagnosis delay at Whidden Memorial Hospital
2023 Medical Malpractice Trial Report
By William J. Thompson, Attorney
Suffolk Superior Court, Boston, Massachusetts
The jury found the defendant negligent and awarded $600,000 for pain and suffering, $5,000,000 for the loss of relationship with his only daughter, and $275,000 in punitive damages for gross negligence. With interest, the judgment was $9,862,248.60.
Failure to Inform and Follow-up on Lung Nodule
The plaintiff’s decedent died at age 47 from stage 4 lung cancer following an alleged 14-month delay in diagnosis.
On 4/25/14, he presented to the emergency department (ED) after he suffered a fall while working on a garage roof. He had been drinking and slipped and fell about 12 feet to the ground. During the fall, he managed to shoot himself in his left elbow with his nail gun.
The defendant ED physician ordered laboratory studies and CT imaging, which was normal. There was, however, an incidental finding of a 9.7 mm nodule in the right lung. The radiologist called the ED doctor to report it.
After life-threatening injuries were ruled out, the ED doctor used gentle traction to remove the nail. The patient was discharged home with a plan to follow up with his regular physician within 2-3 days and an orthopedic surgeon the following week.
The plaintiff claimed the ED doctor did not inform the patient of the 9.7 mm nodule in the right lung, nor arrange for a PET/CT scan. Furthermore, the doctor did not communicate the significant abnormal findings of the chest CT to the patient’s primary care physician, by sending the CT scan report, or providing any written or verbal communication of the chest CT findings.
The defendant claimed she did tell the patient of the finding, and she instilled on the patient the importance of getting follow up, but did not send anything to his PCP because the PCP was beyond the hospital computer network, and the patient was planning to switch doctors.
The patient ended up following up with his existing PCP a week or so later but there is no mention in that note of the lung nodule. The patient did not follow up with an orthopedic surgeon.
On 5/16/14, in accordance with the hospital’s incidental lung nodule program, a letter was sent to the patient informing him of the lung nodule that had been discovered incidentally on the 4/25/14 CT. The plaintiff contested whether this letter was ever received.
A year later, the patient had rib pain and a cough. A CT showed the cancer, which was now much larger. He died a month later.
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