Jury Finds for Doctor in Claim of Cancer Misdiagnosis – Chouinard v. Atkinson

Cancer misdiagnosis lawsuits make up a fair share of medical malpractice lawsuits. However, most of those misdiagnosis lawsuits deal with a delay in diagnosis that results in a fatal outcome for the plaintiff. Whereas in Pamela Chouinard v. Dr. Janis Atkinson, North Shore Pathology Consultants S.C., 08 L 9295, the misdiagnosis claim centered on a false positive cancer diagnosis which led to an unnecessary surgery.

The Illinois medical malpractice lawsuit was brought by Pamela Chouinard following the removal of her thyroid gland. While Chouinard had initially been told the surgery was necessary because she had thyroid cancer, a biopsy taken after the surgery showed her thyroid to be benign and cancer free. Chouinard then sued Dr. Atkinson for misdiagnosing her alleged cancer and causing her to undergo thyroid surgery.

The case begins in July 2006 when 62 year-old Chouinard is found to have an enlarged thyroid gland. In order to determine the cause, she underwent a fine needle aspiration of her thyroid. The results showed multiple nodules on Chouinard’s thyroid, including a cold nodule, which is a common sign of thyroid cancer. Based on the thyroid aspiration results, the reviewing pathologist, Dr. Atkinson, entered a positive finding of malignant cancer of the papillary thyroid.

After being diagnosed with cancer, Chouinard elected to have her thyroid removed. The surgery was performed by Dr. Prinz several weeks later at Rush University Medical Center with no complications. However, the case got complicated when the thyroid biopsy was returned. The surgical pathology report revealed that it was only a benign goiter, not cancer.

Following the removal of her thyroid gland, Chouinard was forced to go on daily medication to supplement her thyroid production and will need to undergo semi-annual monitoring of her thyroid hormone levels. Chouinard filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the defendant doctors, in which she was critical of the cancer misdiagnosis and the unnecessary removal of her thyroid gland.

Chouinard’s medical malpractice complaint criticized Dr. Atkinson for incorrectly interpreting the needle aspiration slides as malignant. The complaint alleged that not only did the cancer diagnosis cause Chouinard emotional distress, but also to undergo a thyroid removal surgery. Chouinard alleges that she would not have undergo surgery if she had known her tumor was benign.

However, Dr. Atkinson stood by his interpretation of the thyroid aspiration slides. Dr. Atkinson pointed out that not only had another lab technologist supported Dr. Atkinson’s findings, but also that fine needle aspirations have been known to come back with a false positive. In addition, while the Rush pathologists correctly read the surgical tissue as benign, the defendants were critical that the Rush pathologists had only looked at a small part of the thyroid and disposed of the rest. Dr. Atkinson seemed to be trying to convince the jury that his actions were not negligent.

Likewise, the defendants argued that even if Chouinard’s thyroid gland was not cancerous, there was a good chance she would have had to remove it anyway. The defendants pointed to Chouinard’s medical records, which indicated that she had a badly diseased thyroid gland. At the time of the surgery, Chouinard’s thyroid was three to ten times its normal size due to huge cysts. Defense experts argued that her thyroid would have only gotten bigger and more difficult to treat as time went on. Based on this theory, the defendants argued that Dr. Prinz was correct in removing Chouinard’s thyroid. The defense experts pointed out that the thyroid’s only function was to make a hormone; that hormone is easily replaced with a pill that lacks side effects. Therefore, according to the defendants, Chouinard’s damages were limited.

At the conclusion of the Cook County medical malpractice trial, the jury deliberated before ruling in favor of the defendants. The defense attorney credits the not guilty verdict to the jury’s answer to a special interrogatory:

“Do you find that Dr. Janis Atkinson deviated from the standard of care in her interpretation of Pamela Chouinard’s fine needle aspiration of her thyroid?”

The jury responded “no” and therefore could not find the defendants guilty. So while Chouinard represents an unique spin on the typical cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit, it does not conclude with a happy ending for the plaintiff.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois medical malpractice matters for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas including, Dolton, Merrionette Park, Palos Hills, Oak Lawn, Elk Grove Village, and Grayslake.

Similar blog posts:

Doctors’ Failure to Timely Diagnose Lung Cancer Leads to $850,000 Settlement – Sahagun v. Aven
Misdiagnosed Colon Cancer Leads to Illinois Woman’s Death – $2.05 Million Settlement Reached in Estate of Cyborski v. Advocate South Suburban Hospital
Cook County Breast Cancer Lawsuit Receives $1.5 Million Verdict – Estate of Lorraine Hollister v. Northwest Associates for Women’s Healthcare, P.C., et al.