Melissa Ward was told the malignant tumor in her right breast had been successfully treated with chemotherapy and a subsequent double mastectomy in 2018.
Nine months after the procedure, however, the Baltimore County woman still felt a lump in the same area of her breast.
Imaging revealed the tumor had not been removed, nor had a metal clip placed at the site of the biopsy to help identify the location of the malignancy.
This week, a jury awarded a $2.4 million judgement to Ward following a Baltimore County Circuit Court trial in which attorneys argued the delay in removing the tumor led to more medical treatments and an increased risk for future disease.
Attorney Patrice Meredith Clarke said in a news release that Ward’s experience was not about “one mistake made by one person on one day,” but about “the system” that failed her.
“It is the system that must be held accountable,” Clarke said in the statement. “And the jury with its verdict did just that. Ms. Ward and I are very grateful for their decision.”
Ward’s attorneys filed a medical malpractice lawsuit in 2019 against Greater Baltimore Medical Center and Advanced Radiology alleging that doctors had failed to remove the tumor, failed to properly follow up a report that the tissue removed had no evidence of a tumor or biopsy clip, and failed to identify the clip and tumor in a mammogram and ultrasound.
Without that “intentional and negligent misconduct,” the lawsuit said, Ward would not have spent a year with a tumor in her breast, had to undergo a lumpectomy and second mastectomy, had radiation therapy or “most importantly” have to live with increased risk of cancer recurrence.
Michelle Dian, an attorney who represented the medical center, didn’t answer questions about the jury decision in an email, writing only that “GBMC wishes Ms. Ward the very best.”
Andrew Vernick, who represented the radiology company, said Tuesday that he expects the judgment would be reduced to $800,000 for pain and suffering, plus about $140,000 for medical bills, due to a cap in Maryland. The cost will be split between both defendants, per state law, Vernick said.
Vernick said post-trial motions and appeals were being considered, and said the care provided by his client was “reasonable and appropriate.”
“From a radiology perspective, they did the best they could under the circumstances and provided appropriate care,” he said.
Kathleen Howard Meredith, who also represented Ward, said her legal team plans to oppose the cap that applies in cases of medical negligence and argue a higher cap for victims of negligence should apply. But she acknowledged the jury’s verdict would be cut to some extent.
According to Ward’s lawsuit, she had the mastectomy procedure Feb. 8, 2018. The tissue was sent to pathology, where an analysis didn’t find the biopsy site, surgical staples or the 8 millimeter mass that showed up in a prior scan.
The surgeon sent Ward to have a mammogram at her one-week follow-up appointment, the suit said, and a doctor who interpreted the image didn’t identify the clip or tumor. Ward was told she was cancer-free, Meredith said.
But by November, an ultrasound identified the tumor.
She underwent a lumpectomy, then a “repeat” mastectomy, according to the lawsuit. She followed that up with radiation in spring 2019.
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Ward’s lawsuit stated she was told she’s at “increased risk” for recurrence of her breast cancer. Her attorneys wrote in the suit that patients who undergo chemotherapy for breast cancer and then have surgery, are immediately treated with additional therapy because it increases survival rates.
“No one has studied the effect of delaying removal of a chemotherapy resistant triple negative breast cancer tumor for over a year after the completion of the first round of chemotherapy,” the lawsuit said.
Ward’s attorneys added in their news release that the surgeon presented a concern shortly after the surgery about a tumor and clip in Ward’s breast to a “tumor board” at the medical center, which prompted additional imaging. According to the release, a doctor who analyzed those images and didn’t find the tumor or the clip testified at the trial that she can now identify the clip on the mammogram.
Despite the concerns, Ward was not notified about them, the release said, and her medical team acted toward her as though her tumor was “successfully treated.”
Meredith, one of Ward’s attorneys, said Tuesday that it was important for Ward to be heard and for her story to be “understood.”
Someone suffering from breast cancer can feel deprived of the ability to make decisions for themselves, Meredith said, and medical mistakes put Ward in a situation where “she could not make intelligent, informed decisions about her future.”
“She’s grateful to have some agency going forward,” Meredith said.