Medical Verdicts

Missed cancer leads to death


Unknown County (NY) Supreme Court

For several years a woman had had routine Pap smears that were read as normal. She came in to her ObGyn the following year complaining of vaginal bleeding and pain; no Pap smear was done because she was menstruating. The Pap smear done 3 months later was also read as normal.

Further evaluation because of continued profuse vaginal bleeding revealed a grapefruit-sized tumor on the woman’s cervix. Despite a radical hysterectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation, the woman died from the cancer 3 years after diagnosis.

The suit claimed that the woman’s ObGyn was negligent in not palpating the cervix or performing a colposcopy, which may have led to earlier detection of the cancer when it could have been treated successfully. Later review of prior Pap smears showed the presence of abnormal cells. The plaintiff claimed the ObGyn negligently reported the woman’s condition when the Pap smears were sent for evaluation, and that a proper history would have led to the Pap smears being read as abnormal.

The physician contended that the cancer was aggressive and difficult to detect, and that the lab had misread the Pap smears.

  • The jury assessed damages at $11.8 million. The verdict found 55% fault against the physician and the remainder against the laboratory. Because the plaintiff made no claims against the laboratory, the award was expected to be reduced in proportion to the fault assessment.
The cases in this column are selected by the editors of OBG Management from Medical Malpractice Verdicts, Settlements & Experts, with permission of the editor, Lewis Laska, of Nashville, Tenn ( The available information about the cases presented here is sometimes incomplete; thus, pertinent details of a given situation 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 and are meant to illustrate nationwide variation in jury verdicts and awards.

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