Cancer is a dreaded diagnosis that shocks families and wrecks lives. It’s even worse when they find out there was a missed opportunity to diagnose and treat it.
In 2022, a jury entered a verdict for over $18 million in favor of Kerri Downes, a woman in her 20s who found a lump on her breast that was about the size of a grape. Kerri sought treatment from Eileen Carpenter, a nurse practitioner (NP).
Jury finds nurse practitioner was negligent
NP Carpenter was certified in women's health care by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America/University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. It was part of her regular practice to perform gynecological exams.
According to the trial evidence, when NP Carpenter saw Kerri, Kerri told her about the lump on her breast. NP Carpenter said she couldn’t feel it, so there wasn’t anything to worry about. She didn’t perform an ultrasound of the area, let alone order more advanced imaging.
Kerri followed up with another visit, but NP Carpenter missed another opportunity to diagnosis breast cancer, based on the trial evidence of the failure to order diagnostic testing.
Nine months later, Kerri was diagnosed with breast cancer. By then, the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.
Survival rates for breast cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, survival rates for breast cancer depend on how quickly it’s diagnosed and treated.
• Localized cancer is where there’s no sign it’s spread outside of the breast. The 5-year survival rate is 99%.
• Regional cancer has spread outside the breast to nearby structures or lymph nodes. The 5-year survival rate is 86%.
• Distant cancer has spread outside the breast to distant body parts such as the lungs, liver, or bones. The 5-year survival rate is 29%.
The patient’s outcome would’ve been different if the nurse practitioner provided proper care
According to testimony from Kerri’s medical experts, if NP Carpenter had timely ordered diagnostic testing, it would have revealed breast cancer, and the only treatment that Kerri would’ve likely needed was a lumpectomy.
A lumpectomy is a surgical procedure to remove cancerous or suspected cancerous or abnormal tissue from the breast. The surgeon removes some healthy tissue around the concerning area, which is called achieving clean margins. The goal is to remove all of the cancer or abnormal tissue. Most patients heal quickly from this procedure and can return to work in a few days.
Because of NP Carpenter’s failure to diagnose, Kerri’s experts explained to the jury, Kerri had to have a bilateral mastectomy. That’s a surgery to remove both entire breasts. On top of that, she needed radiation treatments because the breast cancer had metastasized or spread to her lymph nodes.
Kerri’s medical experts also shared with the jury their grim opinion that this poor care will cause Kerri to have a diminished life expectancy.
At trial, Kerri testified about her mental anguish and worries about whether she’ll be around to enjoy her fifth or tenth anniversary with her husband, or whether they’ll be able to have children.
After hearing the evidence, it only took the jury 90 minutes to enter the verdict. NP Carpenter’s attorneys filed an appeal on her behalf over the jury’s $18+ million verdict. The appellate judge entered a 53-page opinion, concluding, “Given the extent of the plaintiff’s injury and the damages she will continue to suffer, we do not find the jury’s award to be arbitrary, speculative, punitive or grossly excessive. To the contrary, the award fairly and reasonably compensates the plaintiff for the harm she has suffered.”
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured because of a cancer misdiagnosis in Texas, then contact a top-rated, experienced Texas medical malpractice attorney for a free strategy session about your potential case.