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In Medical Malpractice Case Asserting Failure to Diagnose Liver Cancer, Summary Judgment Denied by New York Court

Syracuse Medical malpractice cases can involve many different claims, including a failure to diagnose allegation. When a plaintiff asserts a failure to diagnose claim, he or she is not saying that it is necessarily the doctor’s fault that that patient contracted the illness but that, because of a delay in a proper diagnosis and treatment, the patient suffered irreparable harm.

On the one hand, it might seem unfair to blame a physician for a disease that he or she did not cause or create. However, it must be remembered that the doctor’s job was to properly evaluate and treat the patient and that the patient was depending on (and paying for) a correct diagnosis to help him or her make proper decisions regarding medical care.

When a doctor misses a diagnosis, especially a diagnosis of a fast-moving and potentially deadly disease such as cancer, the mistake can be extremely costly to the patient. It may cost him or her a large amount of (otherwise unnecessary) medical costs, or it may ultimately cost the patient his or her life. For this harm, the medical provider must be held accountable.

Facts of the Case

In a recent appellate court case arising in the Supreme Court of Suffolk County, the plaintiff filed a medical malpractice claim against the defendants, a gastroenterologist/hepatologist, and others, seeking compensation for the alleged wrongful death of her decedent. According to the plaintiff, the defendants had been negligent in failing to timely diagnose the decedent’s liver cancer, in not considering the decedent’s risk for liver cancer when deciding whether to recommend additional screenings and/or in failing to communicate the decedent’s risk of cancer to him and to his treating physician.

The gastroenterologist/hepatologist sought summary judgment. The trial court denied her motion, and she appealed.

Opinion of the Reviewing Court

The Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department, affirmed the trial court’s order denying summary judgment. In order for the gastroenterologist/hepatologist to have prevailed on her motion for summary judgment, she had the burden of demonstrating that there was either no departure from the applicable standard of care or that, if there was such a departure, this departure was not the proximate cause of the injuries complained of by the plaintiff in his or her claim for medical malpractice.

Here, the gastroenterologist/hepatologist met her initial burden of proof by filing the affidavits of two medical experts (a hepatologist and a pathologist) who opined that she had not departed from the accepted standards of care and/or that any such departure was not the proximate cause of the decedent’s death. However, the court pointed out that the plaintiff had also submitted the opinion of multiple experts (including a gastroenterologist and an oncologist) whose opinions contradicted those of the¬†gastroenterologist/hepatologist’s experts. In such a situation, summary judgment was not appropriate; rather, the proper resolution was for the case to continue on toward trial, where a jury would act as finder of fact in resolving the conflicting experts’ opinion.

To Seek Advice from a Malpractice Attorney in Syracuse

If you or a family member has suffered irreparable harm because of a doctor’s failure to diagnose cancer, you should talk to a lawyer about your legal rights. At DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP, we help those in Syracuse and Rochester as they seek to hold negligent healthcare professionals liable for acts of malpractice. Call us at 833-247-8427 to learn more about our services. Please be mindful of the statute of limitations, an important deadline for the filing of claims against physicians and other medical professionals against whom claims of medical negligence are made, and seek advice promptly.

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