A Chatsworth woman who sued her Kaiser health plan alleging delays in authorizing an MRI when she was a teenager caused a cancerous tumor to grow and forced the amputation of her right leg, was awarded $28.2 million by a jury today.
The Los Angeles Superior Court panel deliberated for about a day before finding that Southern California Permanente Medical Group was negligent in the treatment of Anna Rahm, now 23.
She was not present for the verdict, but many of the jurors smiled at her parents as they walked out of the courtroom.
The jury awarded medical expenses and lost earnings with a future value of $26.3 million. The remainder will compensate Rahm for her past and future pain and suffering.
“At Kaiser Permanente, the health and safety of our patients is paramount at all times,” Peggy Hinz, Kaiser Permanente’s director of communications, told City News Service.
“Although we understand the jury’s findings and wish only the best for Ms. Rahm, highly respected medical experts testified that the medical care provided was appropriate. We will be evaluating in the days ahead how best to respond to this verdict.”
Rahm’s attorney, Michael Bidart, told the jury that two Kaiser doctors ignored medical red flags that should have told them an MRI was immediately necessary.
Bidart said only the persistence of the girl’s mother, Lynette, ultimately forced Dr. Charlene Huang to clear the way for the procedure in July 2009, four months after the Rahms first requested it.
Defense attorney N. Denise Taylor countered that Huang and Dr. Ngan Voung wanted to try conservative treatment before resorting to more aggressive measures. She said the trial evidence showed the teen’s cancer had reached her spine when the physicians treated her in March 2009 and that time was thus not the factor Bidart suggests when it came to ordering the MRI.
“Once her spine is involved, her leg has to come off,” Taylor said.
Rahm filed suit in June 2010. Her court papers stated that she was 16 years old when she began having back pain in August 2008 that grew worse over time. Her family’s chiropractor in February 2009 ordered that X-rays be taken of her back, but a radiologist not affiliated with Kaiser concluded the teen’s condition was normal, according to the lawsuit. The chiropractor recommended that she get an MRI from Kaiser, according to Rahm’s court papers.
Bidart and Taylor gave different accounts of what Rahm and her mother told Huang, Rahm’s primary care physician, and Vuong, a specialist in physical medicine.
Bidart said Rahm’s mother requested MRIs for her daughter from both doctors, but Taylor said neither physician recalled her making such a request.
Bidart said Huang finally relented in June 2009 and the MRI was performed the next month, showing a malignant tumor in Rahm’s pelvis, Bidart said. In October 2009 she underwent surgery to remove her right leg and half of her pelvis.
“A less aggressive surgery could have been performed if her cancer had been diagnosed earlier,” Bidart said, saying Rahm’s leg could have been saved.
Bidart said Rahm was “right up to death’s doorstep” and that she would have died had her cancer not been discovered and surgically removed.
“Anna Rahm deserved to have a timely and prompt diagnosis of her disease,” Bidart said.
Bidart said the doctors tried to blame Rahm and her mother in part for what happened, saying they should have come back for appointments sooner.
However, Taylor told jurors that Rahm had a rare form of cancer that was even more unusual in young women her age and that the two doctors who treated her were not negligent.
“It was not anyone at Kaiser’s fault,” Taylor said.
Taylor said only a handful of doctors nationwide know how to perform the surgery the plaintiff received. She said the woman is now cancer-free, is working and has a full expectation of living up to her normal life expectancy of another 59 years.
“She has indisputably had an excellent result,” Taylor said of Rahm’s post-surgery progress. “You would be inhuman if you didn’t have sympathy for her. But this case is not about sympathy. It’s about whether the two doctors complied with the standard of care.”