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Radiologists Lose ‘Continuing Care’ Ruling

May 26, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging, Neuroradiology
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Five brain MRI scans of the same patient by the same radiology group over a period of almost three years constitute “continuous treatment” rather than isolated acts, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled last month.

The ruling reinstated a lawsuit against the radiology group over a tumor that radiologists reading the first four scans had missed. A circuit court had dismissed the lawsuit, saying that because the lawsuit was filed more than three and a half years after the last of the misread scans, the two-year statute of limitations for personal injuries had expired.

Radiology Associates of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia, performed all five scans. Here’s what happened, according to Legal Newsline:

  • In December 2002, Alyssa Chalifoux saw her family doctor, complaining of headaches and other symptoms on the right side of her face. She was referred for a brain MRI to Radiology Associates at Henrico Doctors’ Hospital in Richmond. Robert Y. Fidler, MD, a radiologist there, interpreted the scan and, on December 24, 2002, reported no abnormalities.
  • Chalifoux was referred to a neurologist, who ordered another brain MRI and an MRA of the head. John Kuta, MD, a neuroradiologist at Radiology Associates, read the scans and, on March 10, 2003, reported no abnormalities.
  • Chalifoux’s problems continued, and the neurologist ordered another brain MRI and imaging of the skull. J. Keith Thompson, MD, of Radiology Associates read the images and, on August 2, 2003, reported no abnormalities.
  • Chalifoux underwent a follow-up brain MRI six months later. On February 16, 2004, Dr. Thompson again reported no abnormalities.
  • In October 2005, Chalifoux again saw the neurologist because of continuing pain and numbness on the right side of her face. After another brain MRI, Dr. Kuta this time found “an abnormality in the region of the right cavernous sinus.” In his October 24, 2005, report, he said the abnormality “probably has been the cause of the patient’s clinical symptoms and in retrospect is visible on the previous exams dating to 12-23-02.”

Chalifoux sued Radiology Associates on October 12, 2007, in Richmond Circuit Court. The lawsuit said the radiology group had missed the tumor the first four times because of negligence.

The court ruled that the filing was too late because the scans were “single, isolated acts which do not toll the statue of limitations under the continuous treatment rule.”

The State Supreme Court disagreed. It said that “a continuous and substantially uninterrupted course of examination and treatment” existed between Chalifoux and Radiology Associates from the time of the first scan in December 2002 until the report of the last scan on October 24, 2005. Thus, the suit filed on October 12, 2007, beat the deadline.

Senior Justice Lawrence L. Koontz Jr. wrote the court’s opinion. It said, in part:

There is evidence that Radiology Associates was aware of Chalifoux’s ongoing symptoms because all the studies were kept in one file under Chalifoux’s name, and both experts in this case testified that radiologists frequently review previous examinations, especially when they relate to the same symptoms.

The case now goes back to the lower courts to be decided on its merits.

Related seminar: Neuro & Musculoskeletal Imaging


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