Posted by Bill Sandweg on 09 September 2019.
A Baltimore attorney lost her race against breast cancer last week. She also lost her chance to have her medical malpractice case decided before she died. Attorney Katrina Dennis claimed that her surgeon failed to properly advise her when he operated to remove her breasts due to a finding of a cancerous lump. There was cancerous tissue left behind on the chest wall. Ms. Dennis alleged that her surgeon should have referred her to an oncologist and that she should have been given an anti-cancer drug to kill off the few remaining cancer cells. Neither of those things happened. Two years later, she went to urgent care with pain in her back. The breast cancer had gone unchecked and had spread to her bones and vital organs.
Ms. Dennis brought suit but, by the time the trial began, she was in the hospital in terminal condition. She died during the first week of trial. She was only 40.
Her fate is shared by many cancer patients who believe that their cancers were misdiagnosed or not treated appropriately. By the time the medical mistake is recognized, the cancer has spread to other parts of the body and the race is on to get the case filed and resolved before death takes the patient.
These are always challenging cases for a malpractice attorney. Once the patient becomes a client, the attorney must do everything she or he can to move the case along and get it resolved before the patient dies. This includes taking a videotape deposition of the patient as soon as possible after filing.
The attempts to accelerate the case are always resisted by the defense and sometimes for good reason. Speeding the case up can prejudice the defendants by forcing them to respond and go to trial before they have had a fair opportunity to discover all the relevant facts. On the other hand, were the court to require the defense attorneys to give the patient’s case priority, the necessary preparation could be done in a much shorter time than the defense requests.
Sometimes though, I am forced to wonder if the delays requested by the defense are sought in good faith. Everyone involved in the case knows that the patient is dying. We all also know that the case is far less valuable if the patient has passed away than if she is still alive at the time of trial. The difference in the verdict can be many millions of dollars. Juries are often quite sympathetic to a patient who has only a few more months to live. I cannot help but think that the defense lawyers and the insurance companies recognize that time is their friend and push for more of it than they actually need to prepare their case for trial.
It is important for a patient who believes that his or her cancer was not diagnosed properly or not treated properly get to a lawyer as soon as possible. The clock is running and no one can predict how soon death will come calling. If the patient is to receive any compensation at a time when they can still use it, suit must be filed quickly and pushed hard. Understandably, the shock of the diagnosis and the desire to get aggressive treatment usually take precedence and going to see a lawyer is well down the list of things on the mind of a cancer patient facing a terminal diagnosis. That said, it is important for a malpractice victim to contact a lawyer promptly, if she or he wants any chance at justice.