Breast cancer victim kin awarded $11M

Published by The Boston Herald, September 18, 1998


A Middlesex Superior Court jury awarded $10.9 million yesterday to the family of a Reading woman who died of breast cancer after she received inadequate medical treatment from a Lahey Clinic HMO doctor.

The actual award to the family of Phyllis LaMonica was for $5,595,000, but it was enhanced by an interest rate of 12 percent a year since LaMonica filed her malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Jerry Blaine in 1990.

"I'm glad this fight that my wife started, and is not here to finish, that the children and I finished, is over,'' Joseph LaMonica said. "The message to all women is that if they have any doubts about their doctor, please change doctors. The life you save may be your own. "

There was no jubilation or hugs exchanged by the LaMonica family when the verdict was announced at 4 p.m. Tears streamed down the face of LaMonica’s older daughter, Denise, 22, and Joseph LaMonica closed his eyes and bowed his head.

LaMonica’s younger daughter, 19-year-old Diane, said afterward, "We are the losers here. My mom is not here, and we still have to go on with life. "

Blaine was not present for the verdict, which came after the jury deliberated about nine hours.

His lawyer, David Gould, said, "Even though we certainly respect the integrity of the jury system, Dr. Blaine continues to feel his actions were appropriate as to the way he treated Mrs. LaMonica. "

Gould said he would consider filing an appeal as well as any other post-trial motions that may be appropriate.

Phyllis LaMonica was 45 years old when she died in January 1994 after an exhausting and painful five-year battle with cancer that included numerous surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. She first visited Blaine in March 1988 because she felt a lump in her left breast and because her dermatologist told she had what appeared to be Cowden’s Syndrome, a skin condition that can be associated with breast cancer.

Blaine testified he felt what he thought was a cyst in LaMonica’s breast and ordered a mammogram for her. The mammogram came back negative, but showed an undefined mass in her breast. Blaine told her she did not have cancer.

He did not perform or order a relatively simple procedure called an aspiration, which can determine whether a lump is a cyst or a tumor, according to testimony.

LaMonica returned to Blaine once more in July, and he wrote in his clinical notes that the mass he believed to be a cyst was smaller than in March. He also wrote in his notes that LaMonica was a bit "dramatic" in her fears about cancer, especially her concerns about her two aunts who had breast cancer.

As part of his case, LaMonica’s attorney, Andrew C. Meyer, attacked the cost-saving tactics of HMOs and noted that Blaine once wrote an article on cost-cutting for a Lahey in-house publication.

Gould’s defense of Blaine centered around a Georgetown University Medical School cancer researcher, Dr. Daniel Hayes. After reviewing LaMonica’s medical records, Hayes testified that she died of rapidly developing inflammatory breast cancer that most likely would not have been detectable when Blaine examined her.

Lubin & Meyer attorneys represented the plaintiff in this breast cancer lawsuit.

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