Victim’s family awarded $19.8M in malpractice suit

Published by The Boston Herald, September 23, 1999

In what is believed to be one of Massachusetts’ biggest medical malpractice awards, a Plymouth County jury yesterday ordered a Brockton doctor to pay $19.8 million to the family of a Wareham woman who died after her undiagnosed cervical cancer spread.

The award against Dr. Bobbie Jeane McCormack, an obstetrician-gynecologist, represents $4 million for Deborah Wood’s estate, $4 million for each of her two surviving children and $7.8 million in interest, calculated at 1 percent a month since the lawsuit was filed in March 1994.

The malpractice verdict marks at least the second against McCormack in the past 13 years. In 1986, she was ordered to pay $450,000 to a Brockton couple whose daughter was stillborn.

“We’re very pleased with the verdict, and we feel it was justice being served,” said Ellen Scopa, Wood’s sister-in-law and a spokeswoman for the cancer victim’s two children, 21-year old Heather Wood and 27-year old Robert Wood.

“Debbie’s children finally got closure, and they’ve got the answers to the questions about her death,” Scopa said. “That’s really what this was about. ”

Scopa said she hopes the case encourages women to be active in their health care choices and to question doctor’s diagnoses.

Wood, 45 when she died, did not seek a second opinion, trusting McCormack’s judgement, after the doctor declared her fit despite an abnormal Pap smear, regular vaginal bleeding and, in 1991, the discovery of a lesion on her cervix.

Lawyers Robert Higgins and Suzanne McDonough of the Boston firm Lubin and Meyer argued that McCormack did not even examine Wood herself until January 1992, relying on the observations of nurses at her Brockton office.

“The first time she put her hands on this patient was the day she found cancer,” Higgins said yesterday. “She ignored the complaints and she ignored the signs that could have saved Deborah Wood’s life. ”

Cervical Cancer is among the most curable forms of the disease if found early, but Higgins argued that McCormack’s lapses allowed the cancer to spread. Wood died June 17, 1993.

Neither McCormack nor her attorney, Alan Rindler, could be reached for comment.

The jury reached its verdict yesterday after four hours of deliberations over two days.

Higgins said the size of the award demonstrates “that people don’t want to be treated by a doctor from across the room. ”

“People want doctors to take their signs and symptoms and complaints seriously,” he said.

“They shouldn’t be passed off as nothing to be concerned about. ”

The $19.8 million award appears to be the largest malpractice sum in recent years and may be among the highest in the Bay State ever. Last year, a Middlesex County jury awarded $10.9 million to the family of a Reading woman who died of breast cancer as a result of inadequate treatment, but other recent awards have been much smaller.

For McCormack, yesterday’s decision was a case of déjà vu. On Sept. 26, 1986, a jury in Brockton found her negligent in the death of Lee-Ann Cahill, who died during birth in Brockton Hospital 31/2 years earlier.

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