Since 1998, Carolyn Champlin, a longtime pack-a-day smoker, underwent regular chest X-rays ordered by her primary-care physician Renato Ocampo of Erie, Pennsylvania.Champlin’s daughter alleged that Mrs. Champlin underwent a chest X-ray in November of 1998 that was subsequently reviewed by radiologist Daniel Homa of Kane Community Hospital, who detected an abnormality in the right upper lobe which he cited as potential cancer in his report. He recommended a CT scan; however, Dr. Ocampo did not order the test.According to the Mrs. Champlin’s lawyers, in August 2000, after a recent chest X-ray, Homa again observed an abnormality in the right upper lobe and again recommended a CT scan to Ocampo. This time, Dr. Ocampo got a CT scan, which showed a large mass in the right upper lobe that was highly suspicious for cancer. Dr. Ocampo decided that the mass needed to be biopsied. Dr. Ocampo performed a bronchoscopy to obtain a biopsy of the lung mass, but during the bronchoscopy he was unable to locate the lung mass. This prompted Dr. Ocampo to conclude that the lung mass was in fact a scar. In December 2000, after another chest x-ray again showed the highly suspicious lung mass, Dr. Ocampo referred Champlin to cardiothoracic surgeon Wilfredo Tan for a biopsy. However, though Champlin was seen by Dr. Tan in December 2000, no biopsy was done.
Mrs. Champlin’s lawyers alleged that when Mrs. Champlin saw Dr. Ocampo in March 2001, he had received no report
s from Dr. Tan. At trial, Dr. Ocampo claimed that Mrs. Champlin reported to him that Dr. Tan thought the lung abnormality was a scar and that Ocampo was to monitor it via periodic chest X-rays. Between March 2001 and December 2002, when Dr. Ocampo retired, Champlin underwent a total of 18 chest x-rays.
In May 2003, Mrs. Champlin was seeing a new physician. This new doctor saw one of her chest X-rays, and he immediately ordered a new CT, which showed the same mass in the upper right lobe, only by now it had grown significantly. A biopsy was finally done and it showed that the mass was lung cancer. In April 2005, Mrs. Champlin died as a result of metastatic lung cancer at age 66.
Mrs. Champlin’s estate sued Dr. Ocampo, Kane Community Hospital, Dr. Tan, Hamot Medical Center and Warren General Hospital for wrongful death and medical malpractice. (Hamot and Warren, who were sued because Champlin had additional chest X-rays performed at the facilities, confidentially settled prior to trial.)
Plaintiffs’ expert cardiothoracic surgeon testified that, when one is treating a longtime smoker like Mrs. Champlin and observes a lung abnormality, the immediate course of action is to order a CT scan, which Dr. Ocampo should have done in November 1998. Furthermore, in order to conclusively rule out cancer when a lung mass is seen on a CT, a biopsy must be obtained, as tissue analysis is the only way to rule out lung cancer under these circumstances. Rather than making sure that a biopsy was performed after his unsuccessful bronchoscopy, Dr. Ocampo incorrectly diagnosed the mass as a scar, opined the expert.
Plaintiff’s expert cardiothoracic surgeon also criticized Tan for not performing a biopsy. Plaintiff also faulted Dr. Homa, the radiologist at Kane Community Hospital. Dr. Homa interpreted the 18 chest x-rays performed between March 2001 and December 2002, when Dr. Ocampo retired. In each of these chest x-rays, Dr. Homa reported that the right upper lung abnormality was either the same size as before, or had gotten smaller. In fact, according to Plaintiff’s radiology expert, the lung mass continued to grow during this period. The defendants denied the allegations. Dr. Ocampo claimed that he did not call Dr. Tan for a report on Champlin’s lung mass following Champlin’s December 2000 visit with Tan because he did not want to be perceived as pestering Tan. Dr. Ocampo also claimed that he relied on Dr. Homa, who told him that the mass in Champlin’s right upper lobe was not growing or was getting smaller. Dr. Ocampo’s vascular/general surgeon expert testified that the defendant performed within the standards of care in his treatment of Champlin.
Dr. Tan claimed that, when he saw Champlin in December 2000 (after reviewing her chest CT), he told her that he strongly suspected she had lung cancer, but that she told him not to tell anyone, and he honored her request.
Attorneys for Kane Hospital maintained that, after March 2001, Dr. Ocampo told Dr. Homa that the mass he was seeing on the films was actually a scar and that he should interpret it as such. Kane’s radiologist expert testified that, when Ocampo told Homa that the mass that he found on the film was a scar, a diagnosis like that changes everything for a radiologist, and Dr. Homa thereafter properly monitored Champlin’s X-rays, detecting no growth.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers, Berger & Lagnese, LLC, disputed that Dr. Tan ever told Mrs. Champlin he thought she had lung cancer and that she ever told Tan not to disclose any such suspicion. There was no documentation in Dr. Tan’s records that such a conversation ever occurred. Moreover, in May 2001, Dr. Tan wrote letters to other doctors in which he stated that Mrs. Champlin’s lung mass had been investigated and had been found to be a scar.
Following her cancer (which had spread to her lymph nodes) diagnosis, Mrs. Champlin underwent regular chemotherapy and radiation treatment up until her death. During that time, she experienced complications such as pulmonary clots/embolisms, edema in her legs and arms, excessive vomiting and nausea, dry heaving, hair and sleep loss, and bouts of depression. (She continued to smoke throughout her treatment.)
Plaintiff’s cardiothoracic expert testified that, had Mrs. Champlin’s cancer been properly diagnosed in August 2000, she would have had an 80-percent chance of living five years cancer-free. However, at the advanced stage that she was diagnosed, she had a less than 15-percent survival rate.
At the time of her death, Mrs. Champlin was retired and receiving Social Security benefits of $800 a month. Had she been cancer-free, she was expected to live an additional 18 years. Her estate also sought recover punitive damages.
The jury found Dr. Tan 40-percent negligent and Dr. Ocampo 60-percent negligent, awarding the estate $1,821,529.40. No negligence was found against Kane Community Hospital. After trial but prior to the jury’s return of a verdict, the estate settled confidentially with Tan and Kane. After the jury returned its verdict on compensatory damages, the jury was sent back to deliberate punitive damages against Dr. Ocampo. Before returning a verdict on punitive damages, Plaintiff withdrew her punitive damages claim against Ocampo, after he agreed to forego all appeals and to pay 60-percent of the verdict plus delay damages.
Dr. Ocampo did not offer any money prior to or during trial to settle the case. While the jury was deliberating, Dr. Ocampo offered $25,000 to settle the case.