Young Woman Owed $4M for Cancer Now Incurable
(CN) - The United States owes more than $4.4 million to a 27-year-old woman whose breast cancer went untreated and is now incurable, a federal judge ruled.
Shilisa Rhodes had sued the government in March 2012 over the alleged negligent medical treatment provided to her by Unity Health Care and her primary care physician Jamie Hill-Daniel.
A footnote of the Monday ruling notes that "Unity and Dr. Hill-Daniel are deemed to be employees of the Public Health Service eligible for Federal Tort Claims Act malpractice coverage pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 223(g) because Unity is a grantee of the Department of Health and Human Services."
Rhodes claimed that her cancer could have been diagnosed early when she complained to her doctor of knots and soreness in her breasts in December 2009. By the time Rhodes was finally diagnosed in March 2011, the cancer had metastasized to her bones.
U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell heard evidence over a week-long bench trial in Washington and found Monday that the negligence of Hill-Daniel "was the proximate cause of the progression of the plaintiff's breast cancer from Stage I to incurable Stage IV."
Rhodes deserves damages in the amount of $4,458,582.17, according to the 130-page ruling. That figure includes about $33,000 for past medical care; $149,000 for future medical care; $737,000 for future lost wages; $37,000 for the loss of household services; and $3.5 million for pain and suffering.
Both parties dispute whether Rhodes told Hill-Daniel about her family history of breast cancer.
"Yes, I told them at Unity that I had a family history of breast cancer," Rhodes testified, according to the transcript repeated in Howell's ruling. "I told them numerous times when I was, when I seen the nurse before I seen Dr. Hill-Daniel."
Though Rhodes said she told the doctor that both of her grandmothers suffered from breast cancer, Hill-Daniel argued that grandmothers are not "first degree relatives" such as a mother, sister or father.
Hill-Daniel also claimed that Rhodes had said no when he asked if she had family history of cancer. The doctor said she felt no masses in Rhodes' breasts.
Rhodes meanwhile said Hill-Daniel told her she was too young for a mammogram when she first presented symptoms at age 24 in 2009.
The court also heard testimony that Rhodes complained to Hill-Daniel about her breasts, but the doctor did not take steps that could have led to an early diagnosis.
Katherine Margo, a board-certified family doctor, testified that Hill-Daniel breached the national standard of care by not considering breast cancer as a possible diagnosis at Rhodes' initial visit, not scheduling a follow-up visit for Rhodes four to six weeks later, and not ensuring that her cancer was diagnosed within two to three weeks after her return visit.
Rhodes, a mother of two, claimed the delayed diagnosis also caused her grief and emotional distress.
Licensed social worker Mila Tecala testified that she diagnosed Rhodes with depression after evaluating her in 2012 and earlier this year.
Tecala said Rhodes was experiencing grief due to her loss of health, loss of her breasts, future loss of life, and body experiences through pain and suffering.
Oncologist Peter Pushkas testified that Rhodes may have had Stage I breast cancer in December 2009 that progressed to Stage II breast cancer in 2010. He said it progressed to Stage IV between December 2010 and March 2011.
Pushkas said if the cancer had been diagnosed at Stage I, Rhodes would have had a 98 percent chance of survival. He estimates her chance of living five more years at no greater than 17 percent.
Hill-Daniel testified that, even in hindsight, she would not have responded to Rhodes' breast complaints any differently than she had then.
Rhodes' experts estimated she would lose more than $508,000 in household services and $737,715 in past and future lost wages.
Judge Howell credited the costs Rhodes claimed to have spent on medical expenses because of the hospital's negligence, her estimate on future expenses.
He also noted that her testimony was consistent.