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Massachusetts Appeals Court Affirms $0 Verdict in Medical Malpractice Case Alleging a Delayed Cancer Diagnosis

In a Cape Cod medical malpractice case, the plaintiff has the burden of proving not only that the defendant healthcare professional breached the standard of care that applied to the situation at hand but also that this breach of care was the proximate cause of the damages about which the plaintiff complains. Sometimes, damages are readily apparent, and the real fight is about whether there was negligent care. However, this is not always so.

Sometimes, a mistake was obviously made, but the doctor insists that his or her error did not harm the patient in any meaningful way. This argument is especially prevalent in cases involving a missed diagnosis.

In such cases, the plaintiff believes that, had a proper diagnosis been made in a timely fashion, he or she would have had more treatment options and/or a better outcome of the illness that the doctor somehow missed. In turn, the physician is likely to claim that the illness – and the ultimate result thereof – was bound to happen anyway, such that his or her mistake should not result in monetary compensation to the patient or his or her family.

Facts of the Case

In a recent appellate case, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendant physician had committed malpractice by failing to perform a proper examination and/or discuss the possibility of certain further testing on the male plaintiff (who was joined in the litigation by a family member, presumably his spouse) during an appointment in 2010 and that, as a result, the plaintiff’s prostrate cancer was not detected for some two years. The case was tried to a jury and resulted in a special verdict finding, among other things, that the plaintiffs had proven $0 in damages, even though the defendant’s failure to discuss the test had caused harm to the male plaintiff. The plaintiffs appealed from that judgment.

The Appellate Court’s Opinion

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling. On appeal, the plaintiffs insisted that they were entitled to an additur because their damages had been “so incontrovertibly proven” that the jury’s verdict could not stand. In rejecting this request that a more reasonable damages award be assessed against the defendant, the reviewing court noted that the plaintiffs were not entitled to pursue a theory of damages during the appellate process that was not fairly presented during the trial of the case to the jury.

In the appellate court’s view, the plaintiffs were attempting to raise a new theory on appeal, namely that the male plaintiff was entitled to damages resulting from the burden of his alleged need to undergo more extensive medical treatment because of the delay in his diagnosis resulting from the defendant’s medical negligence. In affirming the $0 verdict entered in the court below, the court noted that there had been expert testimony at trial to the effect that, because of the inherently aggressive nature of the plaintiff’s particular cancer, the delayed diagnosis did not result in any difference concerning his treatment or prognosis. In other words, in the expert’s opinion, the plaintiff’s outcome depended only on how the cancer responded to treatment – not to when exactly it was discovered.

Schedule an Appointment to Discuss a Possible Medical Malpractice Case

Medical malpractice cases are often hard-fought. Doctors abhor any implication that they made a mistake that harmed a patient or cost a patient his or her life, and the insurance companies that represent those in the medical profession do not like to pay out settlements or verdicts. Having an effective legal advocate in your corner is essential if you feel that you are owed compensation for a healthcare provider’s mistake. If you need to talk to an experienced Cape Cod wrongful death attorney about a possible missed diagnosis or other act of medical negligence, the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III can help. Call us at 888-262-6664 to schedule a complimentary case evaluation today.

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