Final Verdict: Breast Cancer Worsened After Mistake
Medical mistakes are entirely too common, but not all become medical malpractice cases. In order for a medical malpractice case to be successful, the injured patient must show that the medical mistake actually resulting in harm: either harm that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, or harm that could have been avoided if the mistake had been caught earlier. When these elements are proved, medical malpractice cases become extremely serious. In February 2019, a Washington, DC jury determined that a radiologist had committed serious malpractice that forever injured a patient, awarding over half a million dollars in total damages.
Early detection is critical in the treatment and prognosis of all cancers, particularly breast cancer. Women over the age of 40 should regularly perform self-exams and should consider annual mammograms, particularly if they have a family history of cancers. Detecting cancer quickly, before it grows or spreads, can mean the difference between life and death.
Once a lump or growth is found, either through self-exam or through medical screening, women worried about a breast cancer diagnosis should take immediate steps to get follow-up care. That was the action taken by Ann Domorad, a 44-year-old teacher who learned about a possible lump in a January 2014 screening mammogram. She didn’t delay. Concerned, she scheduled a full diagnostic mammogram and ultrasonogram with radiologist Bryan DeFranco of Groover, Christie & Merritt in Washington, DC. The diagnostic visit took place only nine days after her original appointment.
Ann was relieved when DeFranco told her that there was nothing to worry about and no signs of cancer. Even though the screening physician was worried about asymmetric density in her left breast, DeFranco said there was no suspicious mass and no evidence of cancer. For the rest of the year, she didn’t worry about cancer.
Unfortunately, DeFranco was wrong. The mammogram and sonogram clearly showed a 2.5-centimeter tumor in her left breast. It was growing rapidly, and by the time it was detected by additional imaging that December, it had almost quadrupled in size, to 8 centimeters. Oncologists at Georgetown University Hospital operated, finding twenty-three cancerous nodules. They removed both her breasts, performed reconstruction, and dissected connected additional tissue. Over the following year, Ann was required to undergo aggressive chemotherapy and radiation therapy, with severe side effects including headache, pain, stiffness, loss of mobility, and involuntary muscle spasms.
At trial, Ann’s medical malpractice attorneys argued that DeFranco had completely misread the diagnostic imaging from her visit on January 23, 2014. Had he recognized the growth, as he should have, he could have ordered a biopsy and she would have been able to start treatment almost a year earlier. This delay was a critical element in her case. The cancer was fast-growing, and such a lengthy delay in treatment meant that her surgeries, follow-up treatment, and subsequent recovery were all dramatically more intensive. In fact, experts testified that the delay had resulted in lost life expectancy, with a significant chance that Ann will not survive as long as she would have if cancer had been caught after the January 2014 visit with DeFranco.
The trial took eight days. Despite the defense claims that the cancer was not that dangerous or fast-growing, the jury was understandably furious with the radiologist for his failure. After discussing the case for over twelve hours, they ultimately awarded Ann and her husband $680,000 in damages. A medical malpractice lawyer like Cohen & Cohen can help you if you have questions about your own case.