PORTLAND — A Cumberland County jury awarded a Harpswell woman and her husband $1 million Friday in a medical malpractice suit that said cancer spread in her body because her doctor failed to find out why she had chronic pain.

Donna Seabury-Peterson sued the doctor, Kristin Jhamb, and Mid Coast Medical Group in Topsham, saying the doctor failed to find the cause of her pain, which allowed the disease to spread.

Seabury-Peterson had had breast cancer in the 1990s, and her doctor was aware of that, according to the lawsuit.

Yet when Seabury-Peterson complained of pain in her back and hip that had become progressively worse over three years, the doctor did not perform the tests that would have determined whether her breast cancer had returned and had spread to her bones, the lawsuit said.

The doctor also failed to note Seabury-Peterson’s complaints of pain in several progress notes, which made it appear she was pain-free for extended periods, the suit said.

“If you fail to listen (to your patient), you cannot diagnose,” said Owen Pickus, who represented Seabury-Peterson, along with Elliott Epstein and Scott Gould.

The attorney for Jhamb and the medical practice could not be reached for comment.

Pickus said the judgment does not mean doctors need to perform a wide array of tests to avoid being sued.

“This is not a case about defensive medicine. Listening like your family doctor would have done in the 1950s, you should still be able to come to an accurate diagnosis,” he said.

Eventually, an MRI showed Seabury-Peterson had recurrent breast cancer in her spine, breastbone and ribs.

Seabury-Peterson, who is in her 60s, is now undergoing chemotherapy.

“She’s not well at all,” Pickus said. “She’s got an incurable disease. How long she has is anyone’s guess.”

The jury awarded compensatory damages to Seabury-Peterson of $700,000. Her husband, Joseph, was awarded $300,000 for loss of companionship.

The jury also awarded Seabury-Peterson $160,000 to cover medical costs.

Pickus, a physician who has worked extensively with AIDS and cancer patients, became an attorney two years ago. The trial was his first.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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