Delayed Lung Cancer Diagnosis Lawsuit

Peitz v. Meritus Center for Breast Health

X-RayThis medical malpractice claim was filed in Washington County against Meritus after a woman's lung cancer progressed untreated despite early x-ray evidence of a lung mass. It was filed in Health Claims Arbitration on March 8, 2018, and it is the 114th medical malpractice case filed in Maryland this year.

Summary of Plaintiff's Allegations

A West Virginia woman with early-stage breast cancer was scheduled to have a surgery to remove the lump in her breast. There was no evidence of any metastatic disease, meaning the cancer had not spread beyond the breast tissue.

In preparation for the surgery, the woman underwent a chest x-ray. On the x-ray films, the radiologist noticed what appeared to be a mass in the woman's right lung. Even though the radiologist thought the mass was serious enough to suggest that she undergo a CT scan, he never directly informed the woman's physician about the mass.

The woman underwent the lumpectomy procedure and radiation without knowing anything about the irregularity on her chest x-ray. She did not have any further issues relating to her breast cancer.

Two years later, the woman began to have trouble breathing and developed flu-like symptoms. Her primary care physician sent her for a chest x-ray, which confirmed the presence of the same lung mass that had been observed years ago. When comparing the old and the new chest x-rays, the physician could see that the mass had increased in size.

A biopsy revealed that the mass was lung cancer, unrelated to the woman's breast cancer. Subsequent testing showed that the lung cancer had spread to her brain and spine. The woman has since begun a course of radiation therapy, but her doctors believe that she will die of metastatic lung cancer.

Additional Comments
  • Even though the radiologist at Meritus Center properly identified the lung mass and wrote about it in his report, the claimant's expert witness states that the radiologist still acted below the accepted standard of care. According to the expert, another practicing radiologist, x-ray irregularities must be communicated directly to the ordering physician or to the patient. A written report is not enough, right? You should not say this person has a mass and then write it down and never follow up. But this will be hotly contested in discovery.

  • An even easier claim will against the ordering physician. You patient has a mass on her lungs. This is something you have to talk to the patient about because it is life and death.

  • The defense to this case is likely going to be on causation. In almost every lung cancer delayed diagnosis or treatment case the defense lawyer will argue that the patient was not going to survive anyway. The doctors will argue that only 16% lung cancer is diagnosed early enough to have a greater than 51% chance of survival. Half of the people diagnosed with lung cancer die within one year of being diagnosed. So the argument is going to be that with the size of mass that she had, the tumor had most likely already spread.

  • The frustrating thing about this case is that things went the way they should. The woman had a chest x-ray and they caught the mass. If the radiologist calls the ordering doctor, this cancer gets caught. If the ordering doctor reads the radiology report, this cancer gets caught. Awful.

Jurisdiction
  • Washington County, presumably. This case could also be filed in federal court which might be preferable to plaintiff than Washington County.

Defendants Negligence
  • Failing to properly review the findings of the chest x-ray.
  • Failing to directly communicate the chest x-ray findings to the ordering physician.
  • Failing to inform and advise the claimant of the chest x-ray findings.
  • Failing to timely treat the mass in the claimant's right lung.
Specific Counts Pled
  • As a direct result of the defendants' negligence, the claimant suffered a delay in appropriate medical treatment that will most likely lead to her death.

Plaintiff's Experts and Areas of Specialty
  • Douglas S. Katz, M.D., diagnostic radiology
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