COA: Causation questions remain in med-mal suit

January 15, 2016

A woman initially treated for an aggressive form of cancer, only to later discover she was suffering from a far-less serious form of the disease, can proceed with her lawsuit against a doctor she alleges was negligent in catching her cancer early.

Debra Sorrells went to family medicine practitioner Dr. Karen Reid-Renner as a new patient in October 2008 and had blood work performed. Tests revealed an elevated white blood cell count, but the doctor did not communicate the results with Sorrells or monitor her with any concerns for cancer.

A year later, Sorrells went to a different doctor where a blood test revealed a highly elevated white blood cell count. She then saw oncologist Dr. Mark Dayton, who diagnosed her with mantel cell lymphoma and believed she only had weeks to live. He believed she had been living with the serious form of cancer for more than a year and ordered aggressive treatment. Later pathology reports revealed Sorrells had lymphoproliferative disorder, a low-grade lymphoma and much less serious cancer.

Sorrells then filed a proposed medical malpractice complaint against Reid-Renner in 2009 and a lawsuit in 2013, claiming if Sorrells had communicated the test results, she would not have had to undergo certain treatment and procedures. A medical review panel found for Sorrells as to liability but against her as to causation.  The trial court granted the doctor’s motion for summary judgment.

Dayton testified at the trial and his testimony mentioned that he likely would have used a different course of treatment had Sorrells been appropriately monitored and tested early on. This testimony is sufficient to rebut the medical review panel’s opinion as to causation, in that Dayton’s testimony creates a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Reid-Renner’s negligence caused Sorrell’s alleged injuries and damages, including unnecessary medical treatments and procedures, as well as the emotional distress caused by the delayed diagnosis, Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Terry Crone wrote in reversing the trial court’s ruling.

The case is Debra R. Sorrells v. Karen Reid-Renner, M.D., 53A01-1506-CT-534.


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