However, even non-doctors can face medical malpractice litigation when their actions result in adverse medical outcomes. A prime example is medical malpractice litigation against laboratory technicians contracted to provide diagnostic testing for hospitals, clinics and doctor’s offices. These individuals are typically not doctors. They are scientists, usually with bachelor’s degrees. However, they too can be sued for damages in cases where there is a failure to identify or communicate evidence of abnormalities or other indicators of serious diseases, such as cancer.
Medical malpractice lawyers in West Palm Beach recognize that failures by lab technicians can have serious and potentially fatal consequences for patients. For example, a misinterpreted sample can result in a patient not receiving an accurate diagnosis of a serious disease that requires immediate treatment. Similarly, test results that are lost or not timely delivered could result in a delay of diagnosis that could have the same effect.
On recent example of this was outlined in the complaint filed by the plaintiffs in Adams, et al. v. Laboratory Corp. of America. Here, the patient underwent a series of Pap smears, conducted by her gynecologist, over the course of a three-year period.
All of those scrapings were forwarded to the defendant lab, where cytotechnicians reviewed them and did not identify any abnormalities.
Roughly a year after the last of those tests, the plaintiff went to her doctor, complaining of bleeding. It was at that time revealed that she was suffering from advanced-stage cervical cancer. Treatments for the disease in this phase must be aggressive in order to improve one’s chances of survival. Prognosis for the condition is far better if caught in earlier stages.
The plaintiff sued the lab for negligence in failing to properly identify the abnormalities in the samples sent to the lab. This negligence, the plaintiff asserted, caused a delay in her cancer diagnosis. To bolster the claim that the technicians breached the applicable standard of care, the plaintiff offered the testimony of an expert witness with decades of experience in pathology and in training cytotechnicians. The witness reviewed the slides and determined the technicians should have been able to identify abnormalities in the samples that red-flagged the cancer.
The defense sought – and initially received – suppression of this testimony, based on alleged unreliable methodology in reviewing the plaintiff’s lab samples. Without this witness, the plaintiff couldn’t win her case, and the court granted a summary motion in favor of the defense.
That was later reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which found the methodology was reliable, and in fact was also employed by an expert witness for the defense.
The ruling means the case is back on track for trial, though it’s possible the defendant lab could still settle out-of-court.
When it comes to lab errors that result in missed, delayed or incorrect diagnoses, there are three primary types:
- Administrative errors (those that involve computer problems, paperwork mix-ups or typos);
- Lab technician errors;
- Sample mishandling.
Laboratories can avoid these problems by streamlining protocol and ensuring workers are both adequately trained and properly supervised.
Contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Adams, et al. v. Laboratory Corp. of America, July 29, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
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Leavitt v. Siems – Court Weighs Lasik Lawsuit, July 21, 2014, West Palm Beach Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog