Jury awards record $16.7M in lung cancer lawsuit

In what is believed to be Massachusetts’s largest malpractice award this year, a Boston jury awarded $16.7 million to the daughter of a Boston woman whose lung cancer was missed on a chest x-ray.

According to a report in the Boston Globe, Jeanne Ellis entered the Brigham & Women’s Hospital emergency department in October 2006 with complaints of a persistent cough. A physician in the ED ordered a chest x-ray, which was read as normal by radiologist Peter Clarke, MD.

When the woman returned to the hospital 13 months later, she underwent CT, which showed advanced lung cancer, which spread to her kidney, liver, spine, and pubic bone.

The lawyer for the plaintiff entered into evidence the original x-ray, which he said showed a 1.5 cm nodule in Ellis’s upper right lung. Clarke’s attorney maintained that while Clarke was able to see areas of opacity after the cancer diagnosis was made, those areas could be attributed to tissue structures or other organs. Also, Clarke was not provided with the patient’s full medical history.

Clarke’s attorney told the Globe will appeal. Brigham & Women’s released a statement that expressed condolences to the family, but confidence that Clarke acted in accordance with the standard of care.

The Globe quoted the statement as saying: “The Brigham and Women’s Hospital community extends our sincere sympathies to Johnette Ellis for the loss of her mother. We believe that Dr. Clarke acted in accordance with the diagnostic standards of care and that, sadly, Ms. Ellis’s cancer was incurable at the time.”