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This was a death action brought by the estate of the 38-year-old female decedent, alleging that her death resulting from malignant melanoma directly resulted from the negligence of the defendant pathologist in misinterpreting a biopsy of a mole that had been excised by a plastic surgeon as a benign "spitz nevis" melanoma.

The plaintiff contended that because of the defendant’s negligent interpretation of the biopsy, the decedent’s cancer was permitted to progress undiagnosed for another year. By the time of diagnosis, the cancer had metastasized, preventing successful treatment.

The plaintiff was prepared to offer evidence that the decedent asked a family physician about a mole on the back of her thigh that was chronically irritated and bled intermittently. This family physician, upon looking at the mole, suggested that it be removed and sent her to a plastic surgeon who excised the mole and sent it to the defendant pathologist for examination. The plaintiff was additionally prepared to offer evidence that the defendant pathologist interpreted the specimen as "Spitz nevis benign juvenile melanoma." The plastic surgeon who excised the mole, upon reviewing the defendant pathologist’s report, reassured the decedent that she had nothing to worry about and that the mole was a benign skin lesion. The plastic surgeon had apparently excised the entire mole, but approximately six months after her initial visit to the plastic surgeon, she noticed that the mole had returned. The decedent took no further measures at that time, relying upon the plastic surgeon’s assurances that the abnormality was a benign condition for which there was no cause to worry.

Approximately one year after the initial biopsy, the decedent happened to point out to her brother (the physician who referred her to the plastic surgeon) that the mole had returned. Her brother immediately referred her to a second plastic surgeon affiliated with a different hospital. This plastic surgeon excised the mole and sent the specimen on to another pathologist, who promptly diagnosed the decedent as suffering from a malignant melanoma.

The one-year delay in diagnosis of the malignant melanoma had permitted progression of the cancer to the point of metastasis, according to the plaintiff’s claims. The decedent underwent two years of intensive cancer treatment, but eventually succumbed to the disease. The decedent was married with no children at the time of her death. She was single, however, at the time of the biopsy in question and remarried subsequently. The decedent’s husband, therefore, could not make a claim for loss of consortium.

The plaintiff was prepared to present expert testimony that review of the initial biopsy specimen indicated that the decedent was indeed suffering from a malignant melanoma and that "spitz nevis" melanoma was an erroneous diagnosis. The plaintiff’s experts would have said that had timely treatment been instituted at that time, the decedent would have had a good chance of surviving.

The defendant was prepared to put forth a causation defense, arguing that the cancer was so advanced in ________, at the time the defendant pathologist interpreted the initial biopsy, that the outcome would have been the same regardless. The defendant additionally argued that the appearance of the mole and of the specimen was atypical and that the defendant had committed reasonable error which was evident only in hindsight.

The case settled prior to discovery, for $________.

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