On November 4, 2003, Jennifer Luna, then 30 years old and 12 weeks pregnant, consulted her internist because she was not feeling well. The doctor conducted a physical examination and concluded that she had an enlarged thyroid which an ultrasound then confirmed along with the presence of five solid nodules. Ms. Luna was referred to an endocrinologist who examined her two weeks later and told her that her thyroid condition was due to her pregnancy and was benign.
It was not until December 2, 2004, though, that a biopsy was performed which revealed that Ms. Luna had medullary thyroid cancer.
In her ensuing malpractice lawsuit, a Suffolk County jury determined on December 1, 2011 that the doctors should have diagnosed the cancer 13 months before and that their failure to do so caused pain and suffering damages in the sum of $4,600,000 ($1,200,000 past – eight years, $3,400,000 future – 15 years).
The defendants made post-trial motions to set aside the jury verdict on the issues of liability and damages and for a judgment dismissing the complaint. The trial judge granted the motions and plaintiff appealed.
The 13-month delay in diagnosing Ms. Luna’s cancer caused the following injuries:
- a change in the stage of the cancer from Stage II to Stage IV
- a worsened prognosis and increased damages due to the metastasis of her cancer to her lymph nodes and eventually to her lung
- a decreased 10-year survival rate – from 85-90% to only 40-50%
- more extensive surgery to remove the cancer
- two unnecessary surgeries (to remove additional tumor growth and implant a prosthesis)
- Plaintiff had been employed as an information technology manager in a law firm and claimed that she became unable to work in March 2007. She was awarded damages for past loss of earnings in the sum of $358,875 and future loss of earnings for 28 years at the rate of $58,000 per year in the total sum of $1,624,000 (with a 2.5% growth rate).
- Plaintiff’s spouse was awarded $250,000 for his loss of services/consortium claim.
- Following the appellate court decision, the defendants moved to reargue and for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals seeking, in part, a clarification as to the status of their claims that the damages awards were excessive. The motions were denied.
- Plaintiff has survived to date, a fact that defendants argued is new and supported their request for reargument and a new trial. Plaintiff argued that this fact should not be considered on reargument as it was not in evidence before the jury and in any event about half of all people diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic medullary thyroid cancer will survive past 10 years.