One Chicago medical malpractice case that did not involve either doctors or nurses was resolved too late to benefit the victim. In 1999 a Chicago area woman went to her gynecologist for her annual pap smear. Because she had been previously diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease she was at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer, and therefore her doctor recommended annual pap smears. The pap smear was sent to a large national lab to be read. The results were communicated to the gynecologist as a normal pap smear. Approximately ten months later the patient contacted her gynecologist because she was having unusual discharges and she came in for an appointment. Upon physical examination the physician made a visual diagnosis of cervical cancer which was later confirmed by a biopsy.
The victim’s gynecologist then contacted the national laboratory to ask if he could see the pap smear that had been take ten months earlier. When he received the pap smear he read the smear as being positive indicating a need for further diagnostic testing. Her doctor testified that the delay in diagnosing the cervical cancer lessened the effectiveness of any subsequent treatment. The national laboratory defended the action in the U.S. District Court in Chicago by claiming that it is easier to read a pap smear as positive when you already know that the patient has cancer. Additionally, they claimed that the standard of care in reading the pap smear was that of a reasonably well qualified cytotechnologist not that of a physician.
Attorney Edmund J. Scanlan then hired a group of cytotechnologists to replicate the conditions that the cytotechnologists encountered in reading the pap smear of the victim. The pap smear in question was placed before nine cytotechnologists in a blind study to see if they would pick out the slide as being one that should be flagged for further study by the physician. The results of the blind study convinced the national laboratory that resolution of the case by settlement was the more prudent way to proceed.
Unfortunately, while the case was nearing trial the victim a 29 year old woman succumbed from the ravages of the cervical cancer. Her oncologists all concurred that she would have a better chance of beating the cervical cancer if the pap smear had initially been read correctly and treatment instituted earlier. The national laboratory and the victim’s father and fiancee agreed to settle the lawsuit for $1.2 million on the eve of trial.