Lawsuit: Hospital Failed To Disclose Mass That Continued To Grow
2004: An Iowa woman goes to the hospital complaining of pain and CT scan reveals an abnormal mass on her right kidney. The patient is not told about the mass and is released.
2006: The woman goes back to the hospital complaining of a urinary tract infection. The mass on the kidney is still visible. She is not told about the mass, gets treatment for UTI and is released.
2009: The woman goes back to the hospital complaining of abdominal pain. A scan is taken of the area, and she is told she has constipation and discharged. The patient is told that the results of the scan are normal.
However, during the patient’s drive home from the hospital, a resident working under the supervision of her primary care doctor called the patient to inform her that the results of her scan were not okay. The woman return to the hospital where she is treated for colitis. At this point, the mass had grown since 2004 but no one mentioned that to her that night.
Two days later: The woman returns to the hospital complaining of abdominal pain. A fourth CT scan revealed the same mass on her kidney and the radiologist referred the matter back to the attending doctor. The CT tech recommended the doctor take a look at the mass to determine if it was cancerous. The attending doctor later sent a letter to the patient’s attending stating that she was treated for colitis but made no mention of the mass on her kidney.
2016: The patient returns to the emergency room after she fell and broke her arm. A CT scan reveals a mass on her kidney. Upon discharge, a nurse mentioned the mass to the patient. The family contends this was the first time they became aware that there was a mass on her kidney.
2019: The patient dies of renal cell carcinoma.
The defense argued that the initial misconduct occurred in 2004 placing it outside of the Iowa’s statute of repose which prohibits the filing of any medical malpractice action related to an incident occurring greater than six-years ago. The statute of repose, like the statute of limitations, can be tolled in specific cases. In most cases, the statute of limitations would only begin ticking down when the plaintiff became aware of the problem. However, the statute of repose is both firmer and longer than the statute of limitations and prevents all lawsuits from moving forward unless the hospital fraudulently concealed the patient’s condition.
A circuit court sided with the hospital, but the ruling was overturned on appeal. The matter went all the way to the state Supreme Court where they sided with the hospital.
The ruling doesn’t fit within the realm of common sense, but placing laws like this on the books has real consequences for families and lets bad doctors off the hook. Obviously, ignoring a cancerous mass until a patient dies is not the prevailing standard of practice for the medical field. There is no chance the defendants win a lawsuit with these allegations if they were not protected by the statute of repose.
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