Massachusetts Superior Court Overturns Malpractice Tribunal Decision In Undiagnosed Breast Cancer Case

In a recent decision, Boudreault v. Nine (14-P-359), a medical malpractice decision in favor of a radiologist was overturned by the Superior Court of Massachusetts. In this case, it was alleged that the doctor failed to properly interpret the patient’s mammogram results and recommend the necessary treatments. The injured woman was seen for her annual mammogram and had abnormal results. There was a a well-defined nodule in one of her breasts, and the treating physician at the time recommended an ultrasound, spot compression mammograms of both breasts, and magnification mammograms of the affected breast. The patient followed up with the recommendation and returned for a diagnostic mammogram ultrasound. In that appointment, new micro calcifications were found that were noted but determined not to be worrisome.

At that time, no additional recommendations were made other than to return in six months. The injured woman complied, but she saw a different radiologist during this report. This doctor, the defendant in this appeal, reported that there wasn’t any evidence of a dominant mass, and that the calcifications noted before had not significantly changed and were “likely benign.” The doctor did not recommend any further biopsies or MRIs. He did recommend continued surveillance and another follow-up in six months to assure “interval stability.” The doctor felt that the woman remained in category 3. The injured woman missed her appointment, even though staff tried to reach her and remind her of the appointment. One year after her third visit with the defendant doctor, the injured woman returned for her follow-up mammogram. At this appointment, the doctor found that her breasts were highly suspicious for malignancy. She underwent other tests, and a biopsy revealed she had invasive ductal carcinoma. The injured woman had to undergo a radical mastectomy and chemotherapy soon after the diagnosis.

Medical malpractice tribunals require expert opinion evidence from the plaintiff to offer proof that the alleged doctor committing malpractice failed to provide the standard of care expected in that type of case and diagnosis. The injured woman’s expert opined that the injured woman suffered a significant delay in diagnosis and treatment as a result of the substandard care provided by the radiologist. The expert witness doctor also observed the mammograms and pointed to two problems missed by the radiologist. He felt that if the mammogram was correctly assessed, additional tests and biopsies would’ve been ordered and an earlier diagnosis provided at an earlier, more treatable stage of the cancer. A second, qualified expert witness came to the same conclusion.

The medical malpractice tribunal, while allowed by law to give weight and credibility to the evidence, ruled that this was not enough to merit an action against the radiologist. The radiologist argued on appeal that he was not the only factor that would have contributed to the delayed diagnosis. The Superior Court agreed but found that the testimony provided by the plaintiff’s experts was enough for the claim filed against him. The court overturned the tribunal’s decision, ruling that there was sufficient proof offered to raise a legitimate question of liability, and it allowed the woman’s suit against the radiologist to move forward.

The Massachusetts medical malpractice attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan understand the importance of effective expert medical testimony. For a free, confidential consultation, contact our office today at 508-822-6600.

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