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Massachusetts Supreme Court Rules That Doctors Are Liable if They Reduce a Patient’s Survival Odds

On Wednesday, the Massachusetts Supreme Court issued a ruling that doctors can be held liable for medical malpractice if they do anything to lessen a patient’s chance of survival. The ruling upholds the “loss of chance” doctrine that holds medical professionals liable even if a patient’s recovery odds were already less than 50%.

While the ruling should allow certain malpractice victims to increase their chances of obtaining compensation from the liable parties, the state’s highest court was careful to emphasize that their decision only applied to claims where medical negligence/malpractice had decreased the victim’s recovery chances.

The ruling comes from the appeal of a case in which a jury ruled that a doctor’s negligence had prevented a plaintiff from having a less than even chance of surviving gastric cancer. Kimiyoshi Matsuyama reportedly told his doctor several times, over the course of several years, that he was experiencing stomach pains. His physician, however, did not order diagnostic tests until 1999. Matsuyama died five months after he received his diagnosis.

In Massachusetts, a jury awarded Matsuyama’s estate $160,000 for pain and suffering. They awarded his family $328,125 for loss of chance.

The defendants appealed the case saying the Massachusetts wrongful death statute does not take into account loss of chance. The Massachusetts Supreme Court, however, agreed with the jury.

Doctors, nurses, and other health care providers are supposed to provide patients with a certain level of care. When failure to provide that level of care causes injury or death, the victims or their families are entitled to file a medical malpractice claim or lawsuit against all liable parties. Wrong diagnosis, failure to diagnose, and delayed diagnosis are three kinds of medical malpractice that can cause a patient to have to undergo more invasive procedures to recover, become more ill, or die.

Mass. high court rules in patient survival case, Boston.com, July 23, 2008
Mass. High Court: Doctors Liable for Patient’s Lessened Chance of Survival, Insurance Journal, July 24, 2008
Related Web Resources:

Massachusetts Bar Association

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Massachusetts Wrongful Death Statute