A woman brought an Cook County medical malpractice lawsuit against her gynecologist for a failure to diagnose her breast cancer in a timely manner. The woman had been seeing the defendant gynecologist regularly since the mid-1980s, but the diagnosis was not made until May 2000, at which point the woman was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. The Illinois Appellate Court upheld a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff, rejecting the defendant’s arguments. Dienstag v. Margolies, No. 1-06-1558.
As early as 1991 the woman underwent a breast biopsy after her left breast showed an area of calcification. While that biopsy returned benign, i.e. non-cancerous results, the results did show atypical ductal hyperplasia. Furthermore, the woman was at an increased risk for developing cancer due to a family history of cancer.
Following the ’91 biopsy the woman underwent annual mammograms to screen for possible breast cancer. Also significant is that in 1998 her gynecologist prescribed estrogen, which could increase the risk for breast cancer, to alleviate menopause symptoms.
The following November, the plaintiff began to complain to her gynecologist of breast tenderness and enlargement. However, on exam the doctor could not feel any dominant lump so continued her estrogen treatments. Then in May 2000, the gynecologist was able to feel a palpable lump in her breast. At that point she was referred to a surgeon for another breast biopsy. This time the results were malignant.
At that point plaintiff was diagnosed Stage III breast cancer, which is fairly progressive. She required a modified and radical mastectomy to entirely remove her left breast and any involved lymph nodes. She later had reconstructive surgery.
The plaintiff and her husband filed a negligence complaint seeking damages against her gynecologist for failing to timely diagnose the breast cancer. After a trial, a Cook County Illinois jury returned a verdict of $5,950,000 for the plaintiff. After the defendant filed a motion to reduce the jury verdict it was reduced to $5,450,000.
On appeal, the defendant gynecologist argued that the court should have entered a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a new trial because the sole proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury was the radiologist who was involved in her treatment and diagnosis.
As in most medical malpractice cases, the parties presented conflicting expert testimony relating to the proper standard of care and the alleged defendant’s breach of the standard of care. The Illinois Appellate Court said that a jury is not bound to accept the opinion of an expert on an ultimate issue and that a jury is free to disregard an expert witness’ testimony. The jury was presented with evidence of each element of medical negligence, the appellate court said. The court found that the evidence did not so overwhelmingly favor the defendant that no contrary verdict could stand. The Illinois Appellate Court rejected the defendant’s argument and affirmed the verdict.