$3.5 Million Jury Verdict in Cancer Misdiagnosis Lawsuit

Published on August 23, 2009 by Dentonrc.com   A Denton County jury has awarded the family of a Denton woman who died of misdiagnosed cancer $3.5 million, one of the largest awards in Denton since the tort law reform of 2003.   Civil suit law, however, will cut that amount to $1.5 million to be shared by her husband, her two young children and her father after attorney fees.   Melissa Hendricks was 33 when she noticed a marble-sized bump on the right crown of her head, according to court documents.   “She was concerned, since her mother died of cancer,” said Thomas McMurray, the family’s attorney.   Hendricks waited about a month, then visited Highland Family Medical Center in Highland Village on Oct. 14, 2002. She saw Dr. Stephen Glaser, who told her it was a sebaceous cyst, which is a nonmalignant lesion, according to the documents.   A week later, physician’s assistant Jason Maris, who worked for Glaser, removed the cyst. He discarded it and did not send it to a lab for testing.   A year passed, and the lesion returned. Hendricks visited another doctor, Denton surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Charney, who did not remove the cyst at that time because she was pregnant. She returned on Jan. 7, 2004, and Charney examined the lesion again. It had quadrupled in size, and he believed it was a sarcoma. Subsequent tests confirmed the finding.   McMurray said Hendricks had a 2-year-old child and a 9-month-old baby at the time. She was employed as a nutritionist and working toward a doctorate at Texas Woman’s University. She was referred to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where there began a desperate fight for her life. She died Dec. 14, 2004.   Her husband, Tadd Hendricks — on behalf of himself, their two children and her father, Charlie Morello — filed a medical malpractice wrongful death suit against Highland Family Medical Center, Glaser and Maris. The defendants also brought Charney into the case, but Probate Court Judge Don Windle dropped him from the suit.   Defense lawyers Cynthia Hall and Vernon Krueger could not be reached for comment on the case.   The trial began Aug. 3 and ended Wednesday.   McMurray said the jury found that Glaser failed to diagnose the cancer and that his assistant failed to have the lesion tested to determine what it actually was. Jurors assigned 10 percent of the negligence in the case to the young mother because she knew she had a history of cancer in her family and waited a month to seek medical assistance. They assigned 45 percent of the negligence to Glaser and 45 percent to Maris.   McMurray said his research did not reveal a larger award in a case since the tort reform cut down the amounts that could be awarded for pain and suffering and other special damages.   After the verdict, the atmosphere in the courtroom was highly emotional, the lawyer said.   “The family is completely satisfied that Melissa’s life has been given value,” McMurray said. “Their goal was to make sure it doesn’t happen to someone else.”

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