Appeals Court Rules Doctor May Be Liable for Failure to Diagnose Cancer

A Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled that a doctor may be liable for failing to diagnose a potentially fatal form of cancer while it was still treatable. The appellate court finding marks a reversal of a lower court ruling.
The medical malpractice lawsuit concerns Dr. Rachel Tollefsrud and her alleged failure to timely diagnose a bump on Jocelyn Dickhoff, an infant, as stage IV alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma — a rare muscular cancer that had already spread to other parts of her body.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Tollefsrud and Family Practice moved to throw out the Dickhoffs’ suit, arguing that the malpractice claim was for “reduced chance of life” because the allegations refer to a “shortened life expectancy” and “deprivation of normal life expectancy.” Reduced-chance claims are not recognized in Minnesota.
The Dickhoffs countered that the claim is not barred as a reduced-chance claim because medical malpractice claims are permissible when a physician’s negligence causes a patient’s chances of survival to fall below 50 percent.
In the 13-page appeals court order, Judge Thomas Kalitowski reasoned that because Jocelyn’s chances of survival are so low, the case involves “improbable-survival” rather than a “reduced-chance” of survival,” which is permissible.
“We believe that the supreme court did not intend to completely foreclose the possibility of malpractice actions for negligent cancer-misdiagnosis cases involving a lengthy illness with a potentially fatal outcome,” he wrote.