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13-Month Diagnosis Delay, $2.65 Million Verdict

December 22, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging
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A jury in Fairfax County, Virginia, decided that a radiologist should pay a 54-year-old woman $2.65 million for a 13-month delay in a breast cancer diagnosis, even though the woman continued to work and the delay caused no additional medical bills.

The plaintiff’s attorney, William E. Artz of Arlington, Virginia, said the verdict covered future medical expenses (which he estimated at $250,000 to $300,000) and the mental anguish caused by worries about a possibly reduced life expectancy.

Both the patient and her husband testified about her fears for the future, Artz said. He added:

From a jury’s perspective, I think the mental anguish component is a fairly obvious one, even without her testimony.

Apparently so; the jury (four women, three men) took only an hour and a half to reach its verdict.

The case, decided on November 11, has not received wide publicity, and in fact we haven’t yet been able to determine the name of the plaintiff or the radiologist. Our information comes primarily from an article on a law firm’s Web site, which, naturally, mentions only the names of the lawyers for each side.

According to Artz, the plaintiff received a screening mammogram on September 15, 2008. The radiologist failed to notice an abnormality in the left breast. The plaintiff returned for her annual screening mammography 13 months later. At that time, the radiologist did notice abnormalities in the left breast. A diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound showed two masses. A biopsy revealed Stage IIIA breast cancer.

During the 13 months, the tumor grew from 2.5 centimeters to 8 cm, Artz said.

According to Artz, the radiologist conceded that she was negligent in overlooking the cancer the first time but contended that the cancer was slow-growing with no evidence of metastasis by the time of the trial. Defense experts testified that the 13-month delay in diagnosis did not change the patient’s prognosis or expected lifespan.

Artz, on the other hand, argued that the delay allowed the cancer to progress from a “curable” Stage IIA or IIB to an “incurable” stage.

The patient underwent neoadjuvant chemotherapy, a left quadrantectomy with reconstruction, radiation, and hormone therapy. The treatment was the same as if she had been diagnosed at the first mammogram, so the plaintiff did not seek compensation for past medical bills.

The radiologist’s lawyers filed a post-trial motion contending that the verdict was excessive. We’ll try to keep track of this case and dig up some more details.

Related seminar: Breast Imaging and Digital Mammography

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