Galway Woman Wins Substantial Damages For 11 Year Failure To Diagnose Breast Cancer
Gillian O’Connor, one of our founding partners when working with her previous firm acted for the Plaintif and was successful in winning substantial damages for a 65 year old Galway woman suffering from breast cancer.
The Plaintiff attended University College Hospital, Galway for a series of mammograms from 1993 onwards. On each visit, she was assured that the scans were normal and on each occasion was advised to return in 2 years.
Further repeat mammograms took place 1996, 2000 and in 2002. The radiologist noted an abnormality but attributed it to prior chest surgery. The Plaintiff had never undergone any chest surgery and no-one had ever bothered to ask her to clarify whether she had or not. The Plaintiff attended University College Hospital for further treatment in 2004 and 2005 and mammograms were done. By 2005 it was clear that the tumour size had increased but no further treatment was recommended and she was told to return in 2006.
In 2006 the Plaintiff attended the U.C.H.G and was advised to return in yet another year. No further mammograms were done. She attended in 2007, when at last breast cancer was diagnosed. As a result, the Plaintiff underwent a full mastectomy with extensive lymph node removal. Thereafter, extensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy were undertaken.
Unfortunately, as a result of the extensive nature of the chemotherapy the Plaintiff’s immune system became severely depressed. She contracted an inner ear infection which, although never diagnosed by her Consultant, was probably Necrotizing Otitis Externa of the inner ear. This mutated and she developed Osteomyelitis (an infection of the bone) at the base of her skull. These conditions necessitated multiple admissions to Beaumont Hospital and Portiuncula Hospital in 2008 and at one stage the Plaintiff suffered cardiac arrest.
Her balance became affected. She suffered hearing loss in one ear and 50% deafness in the other ear. Steroid treatment was prescribed which resulted in cataracts developing necessitating removal.
The Defendants maintained a full denial of liability from 1993 to the year 2000. They admitted negligence from the year 2000 but denied causation (in other words, their negligence made no difference to the outcome.) Two days before the Trial the Defendants admitted liability in full i.e. in negligence and causation.
The Plaintiff’s evidence was that if her cancer had been diagnosed earlier she would only have had to undergo a lumpectomy with localised radiotherapy and medication of Tamoxifen for 5 years. The Plaintiff’s experts were of the view that the cancer was clearly visible on the mammograms as early as 1996 and that the scan abnormality required further investigation i.e. ultrasound and if necessary a biopsy. The abnormality visible on the scan of 1996 continued to be present on all mammograms up to the date of eventual diagnosis in 2007.
The type of cancer which the Plaintiff was suffering from was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma which is the most common type of breast cancer. Initially, the U.C.H.G. radiologists attempted to advise that the cancer was “Lobular Cancer” which is much less common and more difficult to diagnose. The Defendants also sought in correspondence with the Plaintiff’s husband to rely on an “Independent Report” by a radiologist working at University College Hospital stating that there was nothing untoward in the mammographic films.
No effort was made to settle the case until the day before the Trial. Proceedings were issued in January 2009 and the Trial was listed for the beginning of November 2010. The Defendants, at every stage, resisted having the case heard expeditiously and the Plaintiff did not receive a full set of her own records until three and a half months before the Trial date having had to make three applications to the High Court to obtain them, all of which were resisted by the Defence. The case settled on the day of Trial and the substantial damages reflect the serious nature of the injuries caused including an undertaking from the HSE to fund breast reconstruction on a private patient basis. No breast reconstruction had ever been previously offered to the Plaintiff at any time during her treatment by the Defendants.