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Jury Awards $8 Million For Deadly Misdiagnosis

The family of a woman who died in 2002 after being treated for cancer she never had was awarded $8 million by a Fort Lauderdale jur

Jun 10, 2005 | The Miami Herald

Jury Awards $8 Million For Deadly Misdiagnosis

Chuck Pandrea Still Hugs The Dresses She Left Hanging In Her Closet.

Three years after his wife's death, Chuck Pandrea still hugs the dresses she left hanging in her closet.

''Just to smell her and pretend like she was there,'' he said.

Janet Pandrea, 65, died in April 2002, three months after she visited her doctor for a cold. The Coconut Creek grandmother was misdiagnosed and treated for cancer, a disease all the doctors and lawyers now agree she never had.

Her family sued her doctors and the hospitals who cared for her. On Wednesday, after a seven-week trial, jurors in Fort Lauderdale awarded the Pandreas $8 million in damages.

Lawyers representing two of the doctors involved in the case say they will appeal the verdict. It was unclear whether a third doctor would appeal.

In January 2002, Janet Pandrea went to see her family physician, Dr. Martin Stone, for a lingering cough. Stone ordered a chest X-ray, which revealed a mass in her chest, so the doctor ordered a needle biopsy.

Dr. Peter Tsivis, a pathologist from Coral Springs Medical Center, admitted during trial that he misdiagnosed her with malignant non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Stone referred Pandrea to oncologist Abraham Rosenberg, who began treating her with chemotherapy. She died a few months later of complications stemming from her treatment, according to court documents.

During trial, the couple's youngest son, Perry Pandrea, described his mother's last moments:

'We were holding her hands. `Please don't die fight do whatever you can.' [We were] all huddled around,'' he said. ``We were just in shock, no one told us that Mom was going to die.''

After her death, the family hired Dr. Mark Shuman, a pathologist from the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner's Office. He told them that Pandrea never had cancer, but rather a benign tumor that could have been simply removed.

That much is no longer in dispute.

Where to cast the blame is.

He Ordered A Follow-Up Test But Failed To Check The Results.

The jurors laid half of the blame on the oncologist, Dr. Abraham Rosenberg. The plaintiffs' lawyers contended he ordered a follow-up test but failed to check the results.

But Bob Cousins, Rosenberg's attorney, said the pathologist, Tsivis, was to blame.

''That subsequent test was not important for the diagnosis,'' Cousins said. ``The follow-up test was not driving the decision to treat her.''

Rosenberg, his lawyer said, ``was acting on good faith and relying on the diagnosis of the pathologist.''

Coral Springs Medical Center, which employed Tsivis, was named in the suit, but Tsivis was not.

Cousins said he believes the plaintiffs' lawyers didn't focus their case on Tsivis or the medical center because, as part of the North Broward Hospital District, Coral Springs Medical Center has a $200,000 cap on damages in medical malpractice awards.

''That's absolutely false,'' said Mike Ryan, who tried the case for the family, along with Scott Liberman. ``Dr. Rosenberg was the only one who made the decision to treat her.''

During the trial, Tsivis acknowledged that he misread the slide from Pandrea's biopsy.

''We believe it was this honest and forthright admission that resulted in the verdict returned by the jury finding the North Broward Hospital District minimally responsible,'' said Trish Power, an NBHD spokeswoman.

Jurors divvied up the share of negligence as follows: Rosenberg, 50 percent; Coral Springs Medical Center, 10 percent; Stone, 12 percent and the University Hospital, where nurses monitored Pandrea's illness, 28 percent.

Liana Silsby, a lawyer for Stone, said jurors were ''swayed by the obvious sympathy factors in the case'' and had trouble remaining objective.

''Dr. Stone was not involved in the misdiagnosis of cancer or in the decision to start chemotherapy,'' Silsby said.

Cousins, likewise, said emotion played a large part, but predicted justice would ultimately prevail for Rosenberg.

Chuck Pandrea, meanwhile, said he will devote the rest of his life to Florida Patients for Protection, a public advocacy group he helped found to draw attention to dangerous medical mistakes.

''I came to the court system because no one would give me answers,'' the 75-year-old widower said Thursday during a press conference at his attorneys' Fort Lauderdale office. ``No one even said they were sorry.''

Pandrea wiped tears from his eyes as he described his loss.

He recalled his wife's love of Frank Sinatra songs, how they loved to dance across their living room floor and that they still held hands after 49 years of marriage.

Pandrea said he still catches himself waiting for his wife to arrive home and say, ``Yoo-hoo, it's me.''

''I'll never hear it again,'' he said. ``I lost her for nothing.''

Need Legal Help Regarding Deadly Misdiagnosis

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