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Cancer Victim’s Death Avenged With a $5.8M Award to Her Estate

In this medical malpractice and wrongful death case, the plaintiff sued the defendant for failing to recommend or perform a life-saving hysterectomy. The jury awarded the plaintiff $5.8 million in damages.

Carolyn Casey, J.D.

Written by
— Updated on March 2, 2023

Cancer Victim’s Death Avenged With a $5.8M Award to Her Estate

Case Overview

Case Name: Mary Burgess, administratrix DBN of the Estate of Lucretia Burgess, deceased v. Claire Robinson, M.D., Einstein Physicians Wadsworth and Einstein Healthcare Network

Case Type:

  • Medical Malpractice – Failure to Treat
  • Wrongful Death – Survival Damages

Injury:

  • Swollen legs
  • Death
  • Swelling
  • Cancer – lung; chemotherapy; metastatic
  • Pulmonary/Respiratory – respiratory distress

Plaintiff Attorney: 

  • David J. Colleran; Ross Feller Casey, LLP 

Defense Attorney:

  • Donald N. Camhi; Post & Schell, P.C. for Claire Robinson and Einstein Healthcare Network

Case Outcome: Verdict – Plaintiff

Award Amount: $5,801,273

What Happened?

Lucretia Burgess, a 48-year-old employed woman, sought treatment for shortness of breath at a Pennsylvania hospital on Sept. 4, 2015. Twenty-five days later, she died from respiratory failure related to undiagnosed cancer in her uterus.

Tests done during her initial hospitalization for breathing trouble revealed that Burgess had soft-tissue masses in her lungs. Almost two weeks later, her lung capacity was so compromised that she was re-hospitalized and put on oxygen. By this time, doctors had determined that Lucretia had advanced uterine cancer that had spread to her lungs.

She left the second hospital stay on September 22, 2015, and began chemotherapy. Six days later, Burgess was back for a third hospitalization with shortness of breath and swollen legs. Her breath was rapid and shallow—a medical condition known as tachypnea. Medical professionals inserted a tube into Lucretia’s windpipe to assist her in breathing. They also admitted her to the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Lucretia Burgess died the next day on September 29, 2015. The cause of death was respiratory insufficiency caused by malignant lung growths from leiomyosarcoma (LMS) of the uterus. LMS is a rare type of cancer that grows in smooth muscles such as those found in the uterus. It is an aggressive, fast-growing cancer.

The Lawsuit’s Allegations and Testimony

Burgess’s estate administrator, Mary Burgess, sued Lucretia’s treating gynecologists Dr. Claire Robison and Maria Abadilla Florendo for failure to properly treat the deceased. Also named as defendants were Robinson’s medical practice, Einstein Healthcare Network, and its related entity, Einstein Physicians Wadsworth. In the lawsuit, Mary Burgess claimed that if the treating doctors had performed a hysterectomy, Lucretia would still be alive.

Before trial, the plaintiff dropped the claim against Einstein Physicians Wadsworth.

Gynecological Treatment Theories

Prior to the acute conditions that caused Burgess’s hospitalizations in 2015, she had experienced uterine bleeding, bulk symptoms, and increasing uterus size. Bulk-related symptoms, commonly the result of an enlarged fibroid uterus, can include pelvic pressure, heaviness or discomfort, abdominal bloating, leg and back pain, frequent urination or incontinence, and constipation. From 2012–2014, Dr. Robinson and Dr. Florendo evaluated Lucretia’s symptoms and condition.

The estate’s gynecological expert asserted that Burgess’s extensive and increasingly larger fibroids, elongated menstrual bleeding, abdominal pain, and an ultrasound showing an enlarged uterus, called for a hysterectomy. Florendo and Robinson’s failure to strongly recommend or perform the procedure allowed the fibroids’ cells in Burgess’s uterus to grow into an LMS and spread to other parts of her body including her lungs. The expert argued that 2012–2014 would have been the optimal time to perform a hysterectomy to remove the uterus or a myomectomy to take out the fibroids and prevent Lucretia’s cancer.

The defense’s expert gynecologist disagreed, saying that gynecologists were not required to strongly recommend a hysterectomy for Burgess. This expert contended that a patient’s choice and/or symptoms would be the only indicators for a hysterectomy. Here, they said, Burgess felt she could tolerate her symptoms. Also, this expert said hormonal therapy had controlled Lucretia’s menstrual cycles. They pointed out that Lucretia had not contacted the doctors’ offices since she refilled her hormone therapy in June 2013. She also did not make another appointment other than her routine gynecological appointment in February 2014.

Tremendous Suffering

The plaintiff’s physiatrist expert stated that Burgess suffered tremendously during the extensive progression of her cancer and the ensuing complications. The metastasized tumors in her lungs and spine led to great difficulty in her breathing and mobility. The multiple hospitalizations for pain, breathing problems, and air hunger amplified her pain and suffering before her death.

Who Won the Case?

After a four-day trial and six hours of deliberation, the jury found that the doctors were liable for Lucretia’s cancer. Jurors assigned 20% of the liability to Florendo and 80% to Robinson. The fact finders awarded the estate damages of $5,801,273.

The damages broke out as follows:

  • $5,000,000 for survival
  • $801,273 for wrongful death

Expert Specialities

The plaintiff retained expert witnesses in:

The defendants retained expert witnesses in:

Key Takeaways

Gynecologists have a responsibility to accurately evaluate their patients’ conditions and recommend procedures in accordance with accepted medical standards. Their failure to do so can have dire consequences such as the preventable death of a 48-year-old woman.

Juries will not swallow shoddy expert opinions hook, line, and sinker. Here, a medical expert who tried to put the blame on a patient for her doctors’ failures did not sway or deter a jury from making a rational decision.

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