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Jury Awards Largest Verdict This Year in Boston Malpractice Suit‏

Brigham and Women's Hospital (Cannon Design)

A jury awarded a $16.7 million verdict in a Boston malpractice suit, the largest this year.

Johnette Ellis sued a doctor of Brigham and Women’s Hospital for missing evidence of her mother’s cancer in a chest X-ray. She died in August 2008 at the age of 47 from lung cancer.

Jeanne Ellis first visited the hospital because of a persistent cough. Concerned for her health, she went to the hospital’s emergency room and received a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia. The doctor did not find that Ellis had pneumonia, but did not investigate further to determine the source of the cough. She was prescribed antibiotics for an upper respiratory infection.

But her symptoms worsened. When she revisited the hospital about a year later, another doctor ordered a CT scan, a type of x-ray, and discovered that Ellis suffered from an advanced stage of lung cancer.

Ellis passed away only 7 months later.

This case is a clear-cut example of a misdiagnosis in the hospital emergency room, a form of medical malpractice. The hospital said in a statement that “[the doctor] acted in accordance with the diagnostic standards of care and that, sadly, Mr. Ellis’s cancer was incurable at the time [the doctor] became involved in her care.” But it is more evident that the doctor wrongfully glossed over Ms. Ellis’s symptoms and treated her for the most convenient diagnosis he could conceive.

Typically, this occurs because a doctor may be overwhelmed by the number of emergency room patients who describe vague and broadly-applicable symptoms. The volume of patients in the emergency room also means it is more likely that the doctor or hospital will focus on the breadth of treatment issued, rather than the depth. In other words, it is more expedient for the hospital to quickly “treat” patients with diagnoses that are easy to make, rather than ask in-depth questions that give the doctor a fuller idea of what is wrong with the patient.

The hospital’s attempt to shirk the case by saying Ms. Ellis’s cancer was already incurable by the time of her first visit reflects poorly on its investment in patient treatment.

I believe that the jury has made the right decision and that Johnette Ellis received the compensation she deserves.

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