Slater and Gordon’s medical team have witnessed many cases in relation to the non-detection and failure to diagnose melanoma. The factual scenarios that have presented were broadly as follows:
- Suspicious lesions that were ignored by treating doctors.
- Inadequate excision of suspicious lesions and therefore failure to treat a primary low grade melanoma.
- Misdiagnosis of excised lesion by pathologist.
In all such cases, the melanoma was permitted to develop and consequently, malignant melanoma with poor prognosis followed with the clients in question.
In these cases, the law will examine the facts at hand and then determine whether the relevant health practitioner has acted to a standard of care as an ordinary skilled practitioner ought to in the circumstances. The second more onerous evidentiary step is to obtain expert evidence mainly from an oncologist or pathologist to state that if the melanoma was completely excised and/or diagnosed at an early stage at the time of the consultation with the medical practitioner in question, that the patient would have had a materially different outcome in terms of:
- The stage the melanoma would have been;
- That the prognosis or life expectancy would not be materially impacted upon; and
- The law must assess the consequential damage arising from the non-detection of the melanoma.
The first step in the investigation is reasonably straightforward and expert evidence will be obtained from a peer professional of the health professional in question. The second step can be extremely onerous but as there is a great deal of medical literature and research in this country as to the growth rates of melanoma. It is therefore possible to obtain expert evidence that at the time the lesion ought to have been diagnosed and excised with a consideration of its size at the time as to whether it would have infiltrated to cause metastatic melanoma.
The extent of damage to the client is then assessed by reference to the degree of metastatic disease and the consequential losses which a client will have available to them including:
- Pain and suffering;
- Past out of pocket expenses;
- Past and future care and domestic assistance;
- Economic loss and loss of superannuation;
- Future treatment expenses.
These cases are unfortunately more frequent than is acceptable. There is a common thread throughout these cases and the factual scenarios and experience in these claims is invaluable.