Woman Dies Of Cancer After Doctors Allegedly Failed 30 Times to Detect Her Cervical Cancer

In my torts class, we often discussed the factual and proximate causation issues concerning the failure to diagnose illness like types of cancer before they metastasize.   Those causation questions are a bit more severe in the case of  Jeannine Harvey, a mother of four who died after doctors missed her advanced cervical cancer 30 times according to her family.


The 33 year old mother was repeatedly told that she was merely experiencing anxiety, nerve pain and even a torn ligament as the cancer continued to spread. When doctors finally diagnosed Jeannine’s uterine cancer, it had progressed to the point that it actually shattered her pelvic bone.

What is particularly disturbing is that pre-cancerous cells had been removed from her cervix in 2010 and a routine scan was done a couple years later. That scan showed a 2in (5cm) lump in her pelvis, but doctors did not find it in a prior surgery.

Her sister, Marie Donovan, 34, offered one heartbreaking account of how Jeannine at one point begged on her knees for doctors to take the case more seriously.

While ultrasound scans revealed an over one-inch mass on the left of her pelvis, the hospital said that it had mysteriously disappeared and was probably just a cyst. She collapsed a few days later.

Malpractice in Britain is far less prevalent than in the United States. The United States has almost ten times more medical malpractice lawsuits than Great Britain, which has a number of pro-defendant doctrines and barriers presented by the National Health Service.

Even if Jeannine was advanced in her cancer, the U.S. courts also recognize the tort of “loss of chance” in the failure to diagnose disease even where there was less than a fifty percent chance of survival. Some English courts have proven hostile to such claims as in Gregg v Scott [2005] UKHL 2; [2005] 2 WLR 268, where a court rejected such a claim for a man whose chances of surviving non-Hodgkins Lymphoma was reduced from 42% to 25% due to a failure to diagnose the illness.

U.S. courts have found the requirement of at least a 50 percent survivability line to be too severe. One of the first opinions was handed down in 2008 by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Matsuyama v. Birnbaum. That case involved a patient who complained about gastric distress and was diagnosed as gastritis. He had gastric cancer and died later. His family sued and the court ruled that the requirement of a better than fifty percent survivability was a view rejected by an increasing number of courts and experts.

I have long been critical of the English system that tends to favor defendants with such rules as the “English Rule” imposing costs on the losing party in litigation. Malpractice is another area where I view the system as lacking effective deterrence and basic fairness, though many of my friends in England would argue that they view our system as being too prone to litigation.

Source: BBC

27 thoughts on “Woman Dies Of Cancer After Doctors Allegedly Failed 30 Times to Detect Her Cervical Cancer

  1. This was about money only, cheaper to let her die than treat her. Welcome to the brave new world of national health care.

    15 people will decide your fate.

    I’ll take my chances with private insurance. I have had pretty good success so far.

    Nah, no death panels in socialized medicine [yeah sure]. Just incompetent doctors.

    30 times, how is that possible? That is not negligence that is homicide.

  2. Bron,

    I’ve dealt with very similar cases here with private insurance. Incompetent physicians aren’t an insurance problem so much as they are licensing and management problem. Methods of payment and professional competence are not causally related.

  3. gENE h:

    I would agree that method of payment, cash, check, credit card, has nothing to do with professional competence.

    I also know there are incompetent physicians in this country but they tend to be green. This system can only protect them just so far, the profit motive is incentive to side line them where they can do little harm. In a government system there is no such incentive.

    There is motivation to improve in market based medicine, not any such motivation in a socialized system. Salaries are set, work hours are set, etc.

  4. I personally know of a case in my family where a mother of three young children died of breast cancer because her physicians failed to recognize it in the X-Rays. Ironically, Her ex-husband is a physician with world wide prominence in his field and had gotten her the “best” Doctors. After ten years, just prior to trial, her children were awarded a good deal of money in a settlement. Perhaps if it had been in Great Britain the suit would have failed.

    I mention this case, involving a women, because I believe that often women are given short shrift by the medical community, as was the case with Jeanine Harvey being told “The 33 year old mother was repeatedly told that she was merely experiencing anxiety, nerve pain and even a torn ligament as the cancer continued to spread.” There is a history of Doctors taking the complaints of a women’s pain with a grain of salt, seeing them as anxiety ridden, rather than ill. Even Freud and others who passed as 19th Century Physicians diagnosed the most common physical complaints of women as “hysteria” from the “weaker” sex. I have no statistics, but I wonder if the majority of malpractice suits involve women.

    As many here know, I have had a long and complex medical history and have been in ad out of Doctor’s offices, Emergency Rooms and Hospitals for the last 31 years. While I have never been a part of a malpractice suit, I have experienced incompetence on the part of medical staff. My saving grace is that I try to be an informed patient, but even for someone as assertive as myself, it is difficult when you are a suffering patient. Luckily, my wife is with me in almost all medical situations and she plays the role of my protector. She has literally saved my life on four occasions, by insisting that the Medical staff look further. She has been fearless in standing up to medical authority and in many instances we’ve have had wonderful physicians, who appreciated her perceptions.

    These observances are not meant to vilify Doctors and other medical professionals. The medical system in the U.S. works against their being able to absorb themselves in any particular case. The patient load in private practice is enormous Those physicians in private practice must serve as managers, as well as healers. Most hospitals, I’ve been inpatient in many of the best and some of the worst, are run inefficiently from a systems standpoint and this can be dangerous to patients.

    There is also what I call the “House Effect”, which I named after that irascible medical “genius” of the now-ended TV series. House’s first principle was “do not believe anything the patient says”. I suspect many physicians suffer from the same neurotic faith in the “wisdom” as compared to that of the “uninformed” patient. Thus Jeanine Harvey, despite begging her doctors to understand that she was ailing, is seen as suffering from anxiety.

    Finally, we have to face up to the fact that becoming a Doctor today is seen by many extremely talented people as being a career choice that is guaranteed to make them at the very least part of the top 5% of income earners. There are those who go into the field not to heal, but for the money and prestige. While I still believe that the majority of Doctors become such because of their empathy and desire to heal, I’ve seen the change in many during my long life of involvement with the medical system, starting from a young age with my mother who suffered terribly from a wide range of heart ailments throughout my life until her death when I was 17. My sense is that in Medical Schools and teaching hospitals today the Hippocratic Oath is paid more lip service than fealty.

  5. Bron,

    “I also know there are incompetent physicians in this country but they tend to be green.”

    Not really. Incompetence knows no age. One case I recall involving failure to diagnose cervical cancer involved a doctor with 35 years of experience.

    As for the market pushing improvement in medicine? The inefficiencies that pushing profit over quality of care create far outweigh any benefits from competition in provision. France has socialized health care similar to what I endorse for the U.S. and France has the best in healthcare in the world quality-wise according to the WHO.

    Sorry. Despite your insistence on using only one tool, free market capitalism is simply not the best tool for every job and not causally connected to competence to practice medicine.

  6. Whenever there is a group protected from liability, criminal or civil, there will be egregious wrongs committed by that group weather they are bankers or doctors, here or elsewhere. No to tort reform.

  7. I’ve been to court twelve times. Only to the doctor a few times. I can deal with both.

    None of them are miracle workers.

  8. Some of the toughest medical malpractice lawsuitss I worked were these types. As well documented as medical records usually are, it often comes down to what was said @ an appointment.

    My knowledge of British law and their healthcare system comes from one person, a former public defender who was the maid of honor @ our wedding. She married a Brit barrister and moved to the UK, becoming a barrister herself. What she really liked about the British system is the honor, an almost extinct quality in the US. What I know about their healthcare system is she fell and broke her leg. She spent 6 weeks on crutches until they could get her in for an x-ray.

  9. Mike, To a certain extent I agree w/ you regarding women’s treatment. However, during my career working cases defending docs, nurses, and hospitals I have seen a turn for the better. The reason being simple, there are many more female docs now. During that same time frame[early 80’s-2010] I also saw a similar increase in female attorneys. However, while the balance provided by female docs improved that profession, the women attorneys have not helped give the legal profession some much needed balance. The boys club in the legal profession has proven to be much more formidable.

  10. To echo Nick, misdiagnosis of cancer cases are the most difficult ones. Differential diagnosis is as much art as science and diagnosticians need some leeway but there are some bright lines. Here the bright line wasn’t crossed; it was obliterated. Disappeared??Pay the family; peer review the physician; investigate to find out what the hell happened.

    By the way, the biggest opponents of the English Rule (where loser pays costs) is … you guessed it … the insurance industry. They have the ability to pay when their stupid decisions are decimated by a jury.

    My clients? Not so much. I like the English Rule It fosters settlements and drives down silly suits. I also like the English system of court appointed experts. It cleans up the Bowery that the paid private expert business has engendered.

  11. lottakatz 1, October 12, 2012 at 10:06 am

    Whenever there is a group protected from liability, criminal or civil, there will be egregious wrongs committed by that group weather they are bankers or doctors, here or elsewhere. No to tort reform.
    ———————————————————————–
    Don’t mean to be disagreeable. Weather. Isn’t that supposed to be spelled whether? Ask the accountants also. Enron. Maybe they can turn off the traffic lights in California again.

  12. I agree with Mespo that this case isn’t even close. The doctors completely failed this poor woman. Most times noone knows your body better than yourself. Sad case.

  13. BRon,

    You are truly heartless…..

    Mespo,

    I think you’re on to something….. the highest paid….. w.h, o.r.e…… works….. when you’re winning….. but whist to make the judges nuteral after it’s all said and done…,. Especially when they don’t like someone…..

  14. My mother was taking blood pressure pills. I went with her to the dr’s apptmt. Nurse takes vitals. Mother told him to look at her blood pressure numbers. He ignored her, repeatedly. I finally insisted that he look at her blood pressure readings. They were low – for at least 3 visits (I had looked at her file before he came in). He changed her medication, but only due to my intervention.

    I have not had a good relationship with quacks except for the one that I don’t remember and the one who finally, after years and many quacks, on the first visit did a fairly standard blood test to find the problem.

    otoh, nephew was born with a serious heart problem. moved to pediatric hospital for a stent; less than two years later, open heart surgery (first attempt to fix the problem wouldn’t do the job, so back on the heart/lung machine for a donor valve); ten or so years later another open heart surgery that should last. He lives due to excellent care and Medicaid. His experience makes mine trivial.

  15. Free med is not always the best med, which I can offer proof of.

    The infiltration by women here has improved it immensely.
    The old saying still is valid. A woman must be at least twice as good as a man to get the job, fortunately that is not too difficult. Being a doc is an ego trip for men.

    The patient loads I can not compare, but at my near-care private clinic the docs are encouraged to keep up the pace. But the availability of drop-in visits between 8 and 11 AM was not available under the old government run system. Only private business breaking in has improved the system.

    The only parts today who get publicly criticised are the public hospitals, which have not gotten money/authorization to build more wards. So they get penalized for crowding by the Med Office, and the county willingly pays the fines, with our tax money. Figure that.

    The computer systems are often a hinder. A doc takes one minute to diagnose Lyme disease (borellia) and 15 to put in a prescription e-wise via a new system. Only two out of 20 docs have learned so far. Ii is over 6 months since the prescription system was put in operation. This fortunately is not the main system, but one done for those who get plastic packaged and normal packages by the same subsidiary company. Competition?? What is that?

    A protector is a very valuable resource, but even that does not always thwart the system.

    I’ve had some heart issues lately, the handling of which is not satisfying. Not the first time either. Once had a long battle to first get diagnosed with AV block 4, and then get a pacemaker. So if it gets quiet from here you’ll know why.

    Doctors are a great invention, but the body overwhelms them often.

    Worst of all I have saved for last. Malpractice suits are in principle impossible. And only after many repeats does a doc get reviewed and at worst loses his license. Money, that is not an object to consider, nor patient safety.

  16. Bureaucratic and historical turf systems can hinder effective care when cancer is involved. Witness my Kerstin.

    In Germany a breast cancer leads routinely to control of sexual organs of the woman. In Sweden, the breasts in a female belong to thorax (chest) but the genito-urinary system to another department. Result. Getting a genito-urinary check is very difficult—-often blocked or neglected by the breast cancer doc. Apologies, literally, do not help when ovarial cancer is later discovered. Go home and die, is the first offer from gyn.

  17. Matt, LOL, It is a great failing of our marvelous technology that a spell checking program will not save you if you spell the wrong word correctly :-)

  18. My mother die of a iatrogenic illness, cancer, that would not carry any liability because of the “proximate cause” issue, but it is an interesting one in terms of health care for women. In early 1940s my mother saw a doctor for fatigue and depression. He tried an experimental treatment consisting of shooting high doses of radiation directly into her thyroid. The doctors were testing this, informally, on their female patients — thinking it would cheer the women up. All the women who got those treatments developed cancer of the thyroid within 25 years. Then there’s a thyroidectomy. Then there are other cancerous events — associated with the cancer of the thyroid — then then and then and so forth. In the end, because my mom was a teacher and had good insurance, she had seven operations, only the last two of them being completely useless (and, looking back at it, I’d say they were just done to charge the money for them).

    The experience I had with my mother taught me that when someone is hospitalized, a family member or friend should go to hospital with them and try to stay 24/7 to make sure things go OK. Even a friend of mine who IS a physician takes me along when she has to go to the hospital, fearing mishap. I have learned how to do the medical advocacy thing, at times to my own chagrin. [BTW, there IS no way to do an analogous thing with lawyers and judges that you can do with doctors and nurses. You’re flying blind with the lawyers and judges and god help you.]

    My mom wasn’t just ignored in the health care system. She was exploited. I had no desire to add lawyers to doctors in the end, though — just wanted to learn from experience and go on from there. Some of my best friends are doctors. Some of my best friends are lawyers.

    I need some friends who are Indian Chiefs. :mrgreen:

  19. bettykath,
    my mother was instructed to go to the emergency room of her hospital a few years ago because of severe problems with her meds and they refused to admit her. We took her to a new hospital and if we hadn’t she might have died. I will never step foot in that first hospital again.

  20. I stood in the ER after New Years after waiting two months to be called for further exam after my diagnosis as a AV 3 block was sent to them. I said you have my papers, I am not going home. I don’t think you dare.

    ER called up and acquiesced and sent me up where the heart people put a radio connected heart monitor on me. The next morning the rounds doctor came ans showed me the printout of one incident recorded under the night. My heart had stopped for 6 seconds. That is, left chamber activity. I got a pacemaker two days later. It was a weekend and I was not acute. Just goes to show. What? You decide.

    AV? Atrium-ventricular block. The sinus nerve pulse does not go on to the the left chamber which pumps the oxygen rich blood to the body.

  21. My Nieces Maxine died last year age 26 for over two year she was going back and forward to the doctor and the A@E they said it was all in her head and she was suffering from depression she begged and begged them to check her stomach as something was getting bigger in it.
    They told her if she phoned 999 again she was getting charged but she just could not suffer the pain no more a phoned 999 they were not happy to see her again and told her they were going to discharge her as she was fine she had got out the bed and grubbed the doctors leg and begged him to do a scan and show her it was all in her head they said it would take time and money but if we wanted to wait about for 4 hours he would do it.
    And guess what surprise surprise she had stomach cancer and it was to late for them to do any thing about it she died a few weeks later 2 days before her wedding day leaving two young boys she went to the doctor and the hospital begging them to listen to hear well over 30 what they told me sorry it not like a young girl her age to get stomach cancer

  22. If they would quit spending billions on crappy immigrants and hiring doctors who got their degree from some crap shack in Africa (including one who didn’t even know how to give CPR) and spend it on their PAID FOR by the people socialist care medical system, maybe people wouldn’t die all the time. I read cases like this related to NHS every day and I read that a 76 year old man was approved for a sex change operation (free) but a 4 year old girl was denied surgery that would help alleviate chronic pain associated with some bone syndrome she has because ‘it wouldn’t totally stop the pain and wasn’t worth the cost.’

    England is messed up with it’s priorities.

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