Medical malpractice lawsuits require an exhaustive review of a patient’s medical records to determine whether an error was made and, if so, whether that error caused harm to the patient. Initially, an expert witness renders an opinion on these issues. Next, a medical malpractice tribunal reviews the case to decide whether the patient has presented sufficient evidence to proceed towards trial.
If the tribunal finds that there is insufficient evidence, the case is dismissed. The patient then has a right to ask a higher court to review the tribunal’s decision. In a recent case, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts was called upon to render a decision in such a matter.
The Allegations of the Patient’s Complaint
In the case of Goudreault v. Nine, the plaintiff was a woman who alleged that she had an abnormal bilateral screening mammogram in 2010, as well as some additional testing thereafter, and that she had been advised to follow up in six months. She further averred that she followed up with a mammogram that was interpreted and reported by the defendant radiologist, who found no evidence of a new dominant mass and recommended followup in another six months. The woman missed her six-month appointment.
When she returned for further treatment in 13 months, the woman had a malignancy in her left breast, which required a modified radical mastectomy and chemotherapy. She file a medical malpractice suit against the radiologist based on his alleged failure to properly interpret her mammogram results and recommend necessary followup tests. According to the woman’s complaint, the radiologist’s actions delayed her breast cancer diagnosis and worsened her prognosis.
Proceedings in the Trial Court
Per Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, § 60B, the matter was referred to a medical malpractice tribunal, with the sole issue being that of causation. The tribunal held a hearing on the issue and concluded that there was insufficient evidence to raise a legitimate question of liability appropriate for judicial inquiry. Upon dismissal of her complaint, the patient sought relief from the appellate court.
The Appellate Court’s Decision
Upon consideration, the court set aside the finding of the tribunal and ordered that a new tribunal find in favor of the woman and that the case be remanded for further proceedings. The court began by reviewing the rules for medical malpractice tribunals, namely that the tribunal cannot examine the weight or credibility of the evidence but rather that it must view the evidence contained in the offer of proof in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. The tribunal is to find the plaintiff’s offer of proof sufficient if there is any combination of circumstances from which a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the plaintiff.
The court acknowledged that the radiologist’s conduct was not the only factor in the woman’s 13-month delay in seeking follow-up care, but it held that this did not mean that her expert opinion letters necessarily fell short just because they referred to a delay of 13 months rather than a shorter period. According to the court, when a failure to diagnose cancer is followed by a reasonably foreseeable event such as a patient’s delay in attending to a routine follow-up appointment, the causal chain of events remains intact, and the original negligence remains a proximate cause of a plaintiff’s injury.
To Get Help with a Massachusetts Malpractice Case
If you suspect that you or a loved one has suffered an injury or death due to the negligence of a doctor or other health care provider, you should speak with an experienced injury attorney to determine whether you have a medical malpractice case. The Law Firm of John C. Manoog, III has handled many malpractice lawsuits in the Cape Cod area, and we will be glad to set up an appointment to review the merits of your case. Phone us at 888-262-6664 to schedule an appointment in our Hyannis or Plymouth office.
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