“Sino-nasal cancers are very rare,” stated the expert. “The patient’s generalized complaints were consistent with allergic rhinitis.”

The expert also noted that the specific tumor type was notoriously aggressive and that a 7-month delay would not have likely changed the outcome.

After discussing what a trial might be like, however, both the attorney and Dr. M agreed that settling the case would be the best idea. The case was settled prior to trial for a several million-dollar figure.

Legal Background

Most cases do not go to trial. Although physicians are sued quite often, most cases are dismissed before they ever get too far. Those that are not dismissed are generally settled prior to trial. Very few actually go to a full trial.

The reasons for this are obvious – trials are expensive and the outcome is unpredictable. A jury can be moved by sympathy, and a 19-year old would make a very sympathetic subject. Plaintiffs (like the parents in this case) may also prefer to settle in order to avoid the misery of a trial and the reminders of what happened. And on a practical note, a physician’s malpractice insurance company may have its own ideas about settling, as that is often the wisest alternative.   

Protecting Yourself

Dr. M, or his nurse practitioner, should have referred his patient to a specialist much sooner. Because they had pegged the patient as a hypochondriac, or someone who seeks attention, they didn’t properly asses her legitimate complaints. Further, Dr. M didn’t even note in the file some very alarming complaints, which might have been a tip-off to her condition, such as daily frontal headaches, loss of smell, difficulty breathing, and frequent nosebleeds. Not noting these complaints in the patient’s file was a clear error, and not acting on her complaints which spanned many months, was negligence on the part of Dr. M and his staff.

Knowing when to refer a patient to a specialist can be crucial. In this case, judgments about the patient interfered with helping her get the proper care.