Fatal Failure to Diagnose Cancer


In 1996, a 52 year-old patient was having some urinary tract problems and sought treatment from a urologist. The urologist determined that the prostate gland was enlarged and biopsied what might have been a tumor. The hospital pathologist read the biopsy results as benign (non-cancerous), and a co-worker in that same department signed off on them. The man was told he did not have cancer, went home and celebrated with his wife.

More than two years later, the man suffered significant back pain after a game of football with his family on Thanksgiving. He consulted his family physician, who ordered a bone scan. Tragically, the bone scan showed cancer throughout the man's body. The patient died of prostate cancer at the age of 55.


This was a case involving both a medical misdiagnosis and a hospital's malpractice. The main challenge with this case was that Indiana's statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits requires them to be filed within two years of the date when the alleged malpractice occurred. Because of the misdiagnosis, however, this man did not find out that he had cancer until that two-year period had passed.

Columbus injury attorney Woody Harrison took this case to the Indiana Supreme Court, which ruled that the statute of limitations was unconstitutional in this situation since the man could not have learned about the cancer within the two-year period.


The case went to a medical review panel, which determined that both medical misdiagnosis and hospital malpractice had occurred. Eventually, the hospital and the other healthcare providers involved paid compensation to the extent of their insurance limits. Additional money was awarded to the man's family through the patient compensation fund. The total award of $750,000 was the maximum amount allowable in cases that occurred before 1999.

For his work in this case, Woody Harrison was chosen as Indiana's Co-Trial Lawyer of the Year in 1999.