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Emotional Distress Damages Possible for Cancer Misdiagnosis Victim

In a 7-0 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld an appeal filed by Lonna Loudin, finding that cancer misdiagnosis is an injury that can be pursued for emotional distress damages in medical malpractice cases.

Her attorney said the case is an example of a woman who followed standard medical advice by seeking annual screenings and whose doctor failed his standard of care by his misdiagnosis.

The case argues had Loudin been properly diagnosed in 2003, the cancer could have been stopped before it spread to the lymph nodes and she could have avoided chemotherapy and the emotional trauma of cancer in a more-advanced stage.

Medical Negligence in Ohio

For medical malpractice claims in general, liability is based on the alleged negligence of a medical professional and requires proof of four elements:

  • the doctor owes a duty to the patient
  • the doctor's breach of that duty
  • damages sustained by the patient
  • proximate causation of the damages by the doctor's breach of duty

A physician who undertakes a physician-patient relationship has the duty to exercise reasonable care in diagnosing the patient's illness and prescribing appropriate treatment

In this case, Loudon's physician failed to detect the cancer growth. The cancer progressed and necessitated a more involved treatment, including the removal of her lymph nodes and chemotherapy.

She Had Lost Her Husband To Cancer

Lonna Loudin had been persistent in monitoring herself for cancer because her husband had died of lung cancer in 1981 and she wanted to ensure early detection and treatment, if she had cancer so that the same fate would not befall her.

The trial court had incorrectly found she had pleaded a different claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress.

The Ohio Supreme Court noted, "Courts have allowed recovery for emotional distress accompanied by the slightest injury. ' When there is evidence of any injury, no matter how slight, the mental anguish suffered by plaintiff becomes an important element in estimating the damages sustained.'"

And they found that the emotional distress she suffered was an element of the total damages she sustained, and not a separate claim.

The court concluded that there was a question as to whether the appellants' delayed diagnosis deviated from the required standard of care, causing physical and emotional injuries, and they sent it back to the trial court to address those questions.

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