Attorneys William Applegate and Perry Buckner of Yarborough Applegate recently secured a $28.5 million settlement for a young man whose life was forever changed when a radiologist failed to identify a malignant tumor on a brain MRI. In 2015, our client was a bright student athlete who had begun experiencing shooting pains in the back of his skull, along with bouts of balance deficits, fatigue, and dizziness. On the advice of his primary care doctor, he underwent an MRI of his brain at a Medquest imaging facility in Florence, South Carolina. In his report, the radiologist indicated no abnormalities and reported that the 14-year-old’s brain was clear of any significant concerns. By obtaining audit trail data in litigation, we were able to determine that the radiologist read the entire brain imaging study, consisting of 251 images, in just 60 seconds.
Trusting the clean scan, our client continued with school. In the coming years, his symptoms came and went. But by 2018, the pain was intolerable. He returned for an additional MRI, coincidentally with the same radiologist. This time, the radiologist identified and reported the tumor in his brain which had now been present for nearly 30 months.
Our client was rushed to the hospital where he underwent a tumor resection surgery. Pathology confirmed that the tumor was medulloblastoma, a brain tumor of the cerebellum. Unfortunately, due to the size of the tumor—it had grown to approximately three times larger—removal without impacting certain blood vessels was unlikely. The plaintiff suffered a stroke, causing debilitating injuries. Today, years after completing radiation and chemotherapy, he continues to suffer from severe nausea, vision deficits, speech deficits, and difficulty ambulating independently.
As our team investigated this case, we learned that this was not the first time the radiologist had clearly missed a critical finding in a patient. Indeed, just days before our client’s brain tumor was missed, the same radiologist missed a cancerous lesion on a liver. We also discovered that the prior presence of our client’s brain tumor on the 2015 brain MRI was not communicated properly in 2018 when it was finally discovered. In fact, it was our client’s treating neurosurgeon that first reported the prior presence of the tumor to our client and his family. We believe that the miss was concealed by the radiologist in hopes that nobody would discover the mistake.
As we dug deeper, we realized this case contained more than traditional claims of medical malpractice. It also contained claims of direct corporate negligence against Medquest and its affiliated companies for the failure to properly and appropriately manage, operate, and oversee the delivery of diagnostic imaging and radiological services. In our view, Medquest’s corporate policy prioritized profits over patient care. A monitoring system pushed radiologists to turn around images within a mandatory time frame, but there was no system to ensure a sufficient amount of time was spent on the actual review of the images.
Significantly, this brain tumor settlement includes critical corporate changes by the corporate defendants, Medquest Associates Inc. and its affiliates, to help eliminate this type of error in the future. As part of the settlement, Medquest agreed to mandate a second reading of all pediatric MRIs and CT scans; of head, neck, and spine MRIs for all patients; and of a handful of other high-risk patient scans. The company will also increase quality control policies to enhance patient safety and reduce reading errors at all levels. It’s difficult to fathom just how many lives will be improved—and possibly saved—by these national safety reforms.
A missed diagnosis can be the difference between good health and debilitating pain and between life and death. In these healthcare-related cases, our attorneys not only strive to figure out what happened to cause a patient harm but also why it happened and who could have prevented it. Increasingly in today’s healthcare landscape, private equity firms and financial analysts are leading the day-to-day operational decisions that should be made by doctors and qualified clinical personnel. Often, it is difficult to determine who is in charge or managing these medical or nursing practices. Our firm believes that healthcare companies must be held responsible when foreseeable risks are ignored or neglected.
Disclaimer: Every case is unique, and prior results do not guarantee future outcomes.