The wife of a man who died from a misdiagnosed melanoma has launched an appeal after her medical negligence claim was twice rejected.
Her husband first sought treatment from his local GP in September 2009 after a painful lesion developed on the sole of his foot. The doctor diagnosed a plantar wart, and it was treated as such for 18 months until a biopsy revealed the man was suffering from skin cancer.
The tumour was removed in March 2011, but the cancer had metastasised and the plaintiff's husband died approximately 14 months later. Before his death, the man pursued a medical negligence claim against his doctor for failing to correctly diagnose the tumour.
In the original trial, the judge ruled that his doctor was negligent, but claimed the man had failed to prove causation, as he could not show that the cancer had not already spread by the time he sought treatment.
A second trial found that the medical practitioner was not negligent, and even if he had been, the plaintiff again failed to show causation.
Since her husband's death, the man's wife has launched an appeal to overturn the decisions and receive damages under the Civil Liability Act 2002 and the Compensation to Relatives Act 1897.
The matters before the Court of Appeal were whether the man's lesion was pigmented when he first presented to the GP in 2009 – a hallmark of melanoma – and if so, whether his doctor knew or should have known what the discolouration meant.
His wife argued that the lesion had a black spot from the outset, while the doctor claimed he would have identified such an irregularity as a "red flag" for more serious conditions.
The appellate judges therefore had to decide between two conflicting pieces of evidence when ruling on whether a duty of care breach had occurred.
Ultimately, they ruled in favour of the doctor, suggesting that – on the balance of probabilities – a skilled medical practitioner is unlikely to have missed such an obvious sign of a potentially fatal illness.
Furthermore, the claimants again failed to prove causation. The judges found that the lesion was already raised approximately one to two millimetres from the adjacent skin, which medical specialists argued indicated the melanoma was already in an advanced stage.
This case acts as an important reminder of the complex issues at the heart of medical negligence claims. This is why plaintiffs should always seek advice from expert lawyers before proceeding with their claim.
Do you believe you've suffered an injury or illness resulting from treatment that fell below acceptable standards? Please contact a member of our team at Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers.