This month we look at a case where the jury ultimately decided for the defendant physician who was sued by a former patient after she developed cardiomyopathy from a medication prescribed by the physician.
The patient, Mrs B, was 44 years old when she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. She began seeing an oncologist, Dr T, for treatment. The physician discussed chemotherapy with the patient, and ultimately prescribed doxorubicin.
Later, when the case went to trial, Dr T would recall that he ordered an echocardiogram for Mrs B prior to the start of delivery of the chemotherapy, but then elected to start giving the medication before she underwent the test. Mrs B would have no recollection of an echocardiogram being ordered, and the physician did not note it in the patient’s chart.
At her follow up appointment, Mrs B complained of general symptoms, including tiredness and shortness of breath. The doctor told her that these were not unusual, and many patients on chemotherapy suffered from similar issues.
Over the next several months, Mrs B reported other symptoms to the physician, including tachycardia and dizziness.
The following year, when Mrs B had been receiving treatment for over 6 months, she had an episode of fainting in addition to the other symptoms. After the syncopal episode, Dr T ordered an echocardiogram, and Mrs B was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy.
Mrs B went to a cardiologist, and the outlook was not good. She subsequently had surgery to install a pacemaker and became dependent on using a wheelchair.
Mrs B and her husband sought the counsel of a plaintiff’s attorney. The attorney had experts look at the medical records, and he spoke to the cardiologist about Mrs B’s cardiac problems. The experts believed that Dr T should have ordered the echocardiogram before prescribing the chemotherapy medication, or as soon as the patient began to complain about symptoms. The attorney told Mrs B that he would take the case.
A lawsuit was filed against Dr T. In the lawsuit, Mrs B claimed that the doxorubicin-induced cardiotoxicity had caused her to suffer permanent cardiomyopathy, severe mitral valve regurgitation, a permanent pacemaker, dependence on a wheelchair, the need for a future heart transplant, and a decreased life expectancy of 10 years. She alleged that Dr T had failed to diagnose cardiomyopathy, had failed to order cardiac testing (the echocardiogram) and had failed to order a cardiology consult. Mrs B’s husband alleged a loss of consortium.
The case inched its way closer to trial as settlement negotiations failed. Just before the case went to trial, the plaintiffs’ demand to settle the case out of court was $4 million. The defense made no settlement offer. When the case went to trial before a jury, the jury was asked to return a verdict of $21 million.