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City jury awards $3.8M to family of man who died of breast cancer

In a case the plaintiffs’ attorneys say exposes the human cost of managed care, a Baltimore jury has awarded more than $3.8 million to the family of a Catonsville electronics technician after finding his doctor’s negligence contributed to his death of breast cancer at age 54.

Though trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court stretched over a week, the panel only deliberated about an hour before deciding Dr. Bernita C. Taylor was at fault, attorneys for David Dash’s widow and daughters said Wednesday. The verdict, which will be reduced to less than $1.1 million due to the state cap on non-economic damages, was assessed against St. Agnes Healthcare Inc., the only remaining defendant at trial.

According to lead plaintiffs’ lawyer H. Briggs Bedigian, the Dashes “blamed the culture of physicians seeing too many patients” and “hold no ill will toward Dr. Taylor.” Taylor was seeing 25 patients a day, each for less than 20 minutes, which, along with an “utter lack of communication between the health care providers” led to her failure to diagnose Mr. Dash’s breast cancer early enough to save him, according to Bedigian.

“Doctors are being forced to see too many patients, and communication is lacking,” said Bedigian, partner at Wais, Vogelstein & Bedigian LLC, which has offices in Baltimore and Philadelphia. “Medicine needs to go back to stressing quality over quantity.”

Phone messages left with a spokeswoman for St. Agnes Hospital in West Baltimore and with Cornblatt, Bennett, Penhallegon & Roberson P.A., the Towson law firm that defended the corporate defendant, were not immediately returned Wednesday afternoon. Other medical defendants were let out of the case last fall and in the summer of 2009.

Dash presented to Dr. Taylor, his primary care doctor for five years, in December 2006 with “pain from his chest that was piercing to his back,” Bedigian said. He returned again a month and a half later. On neither visit did Dr. Taylor request a CT scan, something Dash’s insurance covered, Bedigian said.

“The doctor evidently believed it was a benign skin condition,” Bedigian said, referring to the discoid lupus on Dash’s chest. “Despite the fact that he was a 30-year smoker, she never considered any type of malignancy.”

Dash was prescribed “over 500” pain pills and was referred to a dermatologist and other specialists, according to Bedigian. But he didn’t get that crucial scan until June 2007, when “the breast tumor had gotten so big you could see it with the naked eye,” Bedigian said. The scan revealed terminal, stage IV breast cancer.

Dash had just fulfilled a marriage promise to his wife by presenting her with tickets to Hawaii for their 25th wedding anniversary, but he was too sick to go, Bedigian said. Instead, the father of two, who enjoyed fishing and coaching his younger daughter’s softball team, died six months later.

Had Dash’s cancer been diagnosed when he first presented in late 2006, Bedigian contended, it was “overwhelmingly probable that it would’ve been excised and cured and he would be with us today.”

St. Agnes’ lawyers “had alternative defenses all over the place,” according to Bedigian. One defense expert testified Dash’s cancer was “of unknown primary,” said Bedigian’s associate, Keith Forman, meaning it had an uncertain origin. Another testified it was lung cancer, even though, according to Bedigian, Dash’s death certificate said his decades of smoking did not contribute to his untimely demise.

“I think ultimately the jury saw through it,” Bedigian said. The type of cancer is important, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said, because if it were lung cancer, it would have been incurable even if it had been quickly recognized.

Bedigian said there were settlement discussions before the start of trial on May 10, “but the parties were too far apart.”

Karen Dash, the widow and an accountant; Kelly Dash, who just graduated college; and Katlyn Dash, a senior in high school, all testified and attended the whole trial before Judge Emanuel Brown over the course of the last two weeks, Bedigian said, describing the proceeding as both “gut-wrenching” and “cathartic” for the family.

“Even if it had gone the other way, they would have had a sense of closure,” Forman said.

KAREN DASH, ET AL. V. ST. AGNES HEALTHCARE INC.

Court:

Baltimore City Circuit

Case No.:

24C09002162

Judge:

Emanuel Brown

Outcome:

Plaintiffs’ Verdict

Dates:

Event: Dec. 4, 2006

Suit filed: March 27, 2009

Verdict: May 18, 2011

Plaintiffs’ Attorneys:

H. Briggs Bedigian and Keith Forman of Wais, Vogelstein & Bedigian LLC.

Defendant’s Attorneys:

John R. Penhallegon and Roxanne Ward of Bennett, Penhallegon & Roberson P.A.

Counts:

Wrongful death and survival action