Cancer misdiagnosis results in $1.9 million malpractice verdict for estate of Massachusetts man

by Charles Miller

A jury in Worcester, Massachusetts has returned a $1.9 million verdict in a medical malpractice case involving a man who died from complications of cancer treatments that he didn’t need. Martin F. Harrity Jr. of Spencer, Massachusetts was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2003 at the age of 39. Mr. Harrity’s treating oncologist was Dr. James Rooney, chief of hematology/oncology for Reliant Medical Group.

After the initial diagnosis, Mr. Harrity underwent chemotherapy and was later told his cancer was in remission. Then, he was later advised that the cancer had returned and underwent another round of chemotherapy. In 2006, Mr. Harrity underwent a stem cell transplant. Weeks after the transplant, his doctors determined that he had never had cancer at all. Instead, Mr. Harrity suffered from an immunodeficiency disorder.

Some 1.3 million people are diagnosed with cancer every year. Researchers at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore reviewed tissue samples from 6,000 cancer patients across the country and found that one out of every 71 cases was misdiagnosed; for example, a biopsy was labeled cancerous when it was not, according to a report by ABC News. The researchers also found that up to one out of five cancer cases was misclassified.

According to Boston-based Best Doctors, Inc., cancer is commonly misdiagnosed. A joint study between Best Doctors and the National Coalition on Health Care found that doctors underestimate the incidents of misdiagnosis. The study found that 60 percent of doctors surveyed believed cancer misdiagnosis rates to be between zero and 10 percent, which is far lower than the actual 28 percent misdiagnosis rate as estimated by the BMJ Quality and Safety journal.

The wrongful death suit filed by Mr. Harrity’s estate alleged that he suffered considerable complications as a result of the cancer treatments he never needed and that he died in 2013 from those complications. The jury found that Dr. Rooney—who allegedly referred Mr. Harrity for the stem cell transplant— was negligent in his care and treatment and that the negligence was a substantial contributing cause of harm to Mr. Harrity. The jury found no negligence on the part of another defendant in the case, Dr. Nancy Chun. The jury’s verdict included $1,640,000 for conscious pain and suffering, impairment of bodily function, disfigurement, loss of companionship and other general damages and $312,000 for lost wages or lost earning capacity.

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by Charles Miller

Charles Miller is a licensed attorney and a partner at Heygood, Orr & Pearson. Charles focuses his practice on areas of complex commercial litigation and personal injury litigation.