Medical Verdicts

Gallbladder surgery uncovers something more...Diagnosis minus treatment equals catastrophe...more

Author and Disclosure Information

The cases in this column are selected by the editors of The Journal of Family Practice from Medical Malpractice: Verdicts, Settlements & Experts, with permission of the editor, Lewis Laska ( The information about the cases presented here is sometimes incomplete; pertinent details of a given situation therefore may be unavailable. Moreover, the cases may or may not have merit. Nevertheless, these cases represent the types of clinical situations that typically result in litigation.


Gallbladder surgery uncovers something more

ABDOMINAL PAIN prompted a 46-year-old woman to seek treatment at a local medical center, where she had minor therapy. She returned to the hospital repeatedly over the next 3 years and received various treatments for abdominal pain, culminating in the removal of her gallbladder.

During the procedure, the surgeon found an ovarian tumor that turned out to be stage III cancer. The patient underwent oophorectomy and several courses of chemotherapy.

PLAINTIFF’S CLAIM The cancer should have been diagnosed at any of the patient’s previous examinations.

THE DEFENSE The patient’s symptoms were vague; ovarian cancer is often diagnosed at a late stage.

VERDICT $160,000 New York settlement.

COMMENT It never ceases to amaze that we’re held to such high (irrational?) standards whenever cancer is diagnosed. Although pertinent details of this case—such as the size of the tumor and frequency of pelvic exams—aren’t provided, it goes to show you that lawyers will do what lawyers do.

Diagnosis minus treatment equals catastrophe

A SWOLLEN, PAINFUL LEFT KNEE led a 65-year-old man to go to the emergency department (ED). The physician who examined his knee prescribed acetaminophen and hydrocodone and naproxen and sent the patient home with instructions to apply ice and heat.

The patient went back to the ED 2 days later because the knee was still swollen and painful. He was told to keep taking the prescribed medications and to follow up with a doctor at a local practice, who examined the patient later that day. The doctor aspirated brown, pus-filled material from the knee and diagnosed sepsis in the knee joint. He told the patient to drive to his family physician’s office, about 70 miles away, for treatment. The patient was carried back to his car and made the drive slowly.

By the time he arrived at his doctor’s office, the patient was in shock and kidney failure and breathing with difficulty. He was put on a ventilator and given antibiotics. He died several days later from septic shock and multiple organ failure.

PLAINTIFF’S CLAIM If the patient had been given antibiotics during his first or second examination, he would have lived.

THE DEFENSE No information about the defense is available.

VERDICT $10.9 million South Carolina verdict.

COMMENT It’s horrible enough that this patient wasn’t diagnosed promptly, but unfathomable that he was sent on his way without treatment!


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