- JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (www.nando.net) -- When Ann Weiss had a Pap smear as part
of a routine physical exam in 1991, her doctor promised to call if lab
results showed any abnormalities.
- The doctor did not call, so Weiss assumed
everything was fine. She found out otherwise when she had her next exam
about four years later, as she and her husband began to contemplate having
- Weiss, who will turn 37 next week, learned
she had mid-stage cancer of the cervix. Extensive chemotherapy and radiation
sent the cancer into remission, but the treatments left Weiss sterile.
Her medical file showed that she should have known about the condition
- The 1991 test had detected either a cancerous
or pre-cancerous condition, which was easily treatable and completely curable.
The report somehow had escaped the attention of her doctor, Chinda Rojanasathit.
- Weiss, who lives in St. Ann, Mo., sued
the doctor in 1996, but a judge tossed out the case. Missouri law requires
that medical malpractice suits against doctors be filed within two years
of "the act of negligence." Since Weiss didn't know her doctor
was negligent until nearly four years after the exam, she couldn't have
met that deadline.
- "It's not right," Weiss said
this week. The doctor "should take some responsibility."
- The case, which is on appeal to the Missouri
Supreme Court, has become a rallying point for women's groups and cancer
support groups. In addition to changing the statute of limitations for
such suits, they want to raise the medical community's awareness about
the devastating results of a misplaced lab report.
- "With cervical cancer, you can go
for two to three years without symptoms," says Mary Bruntrager, president
of the Women Lawyers Association of Greater St. Louis. If there has been
a misdiagnosis, "there's no way to second-guess your doctor."
- Even a judge who ruled against Weiss
called the results unfair. Judge Mary K. Hoff of the Court of Appeals in
St. Louis urged the Missouri Legislature to change the law that limits
- "It was the doctor's failure to
communicate the abnormal results to patient which made it impossible for
her to seek timely treatment or to pursue a cause of action," Hoff
- Rojanasathit's attorney, J. Thaddeus
Eckenrode, blames a mix-up in office procedures for the doctor's failure
to notify Weiss of her lab report.
- "Apparently the office personnel
put it in the file," Eckenrode told the Supreme Court during oral
arguments Tuesday. Rojanasathit "never saw it."
- Eckenrode concluded that the doctor's
"act of negligence occurred when the report came to the office and
the doctor did not call" Weiss. Since the report arrived in April
1991, that would mean that Weiss' chance to sue expired in 1993.
- "The statute of limitations is harsh,"
Eckenrode said. "In this case, there's a harsh result."
- Weiss' attorney, Matthew Padberg, contends
that the statute of limitations did not start running until the undiagnosed
abnormality advanced to a cancerous condition. He contends that happened
in March 1994, two years before she filed suit.
- Padberg called the case a tragedy. "This
is a case that cries out for remedy," he told the high court.
- Several of the judges indicated that
any remedy was up to legislators.
- "They meet every year," Judge
Edward "Chip" Robertson told Padberg. "They're over there
- A bill addressing Weiss' situation has
been introduced in the Legislature but is given little chance of passage
- Rep. Brian May, D-St. Louis, sponsors
the bill. In cases where doctors failed to diagnose a problem, suits could
be brought within two years of the date the patient discovered the negligence.
May acknowledged that the bill has little chance of passing this year.
- Weiss said she has tests every three
months, to see if her cancer has returned. "Every three months, you
hold your breath, but so far, so good," she said.
- Women need to take their health care
into their own hands, she says.
- "I tell every woman I meet -- make
sure you call and get a copy of that test result. Don't rely on doctors."