Health & Science: Washington jury awards $16.2 million in false-diagnosis case
By MELANTHIA MITCHELL, Associated Press
SEATTLE (June 30, 2001 12:07 p.m. EDT) - A woman who underwent a hysterectomy and had part of a lung removed after being falsely diagnosed with a rare form of cancer was awarded $16.2 million Friday.
King County Superior Court jurors awarded Jennifer Rufer, 25, and her husband, David, $452,000 in economic losses, $15 million for her pain and suffering and $750,000 for his pain and suffering.
Chicago-based Abbott Laboratories, which made the test used to diagnose Rufer, and the University of Washington Medical Center, which treated her, were found equally responsible and ordered to pay $8.1 million each.
"We came into this to warn the public and other doctors and we think that's been achieved," said David Rufer, of Spanaway.
Brad Keller, a lawyer for Abbott, and University spokeswoman Pam Samowers said the company and the university would appeal.
Rufer's ordeal began in early 1998, when she thought she had suffered a miscarriage.
Doctors gave her an Abbott pregnancy test, which showed she had an elevated level of the hormone HCG. That meant either she was pregnant or she was in the early stages of a rare form of cancer that starts in a woman's reproductive system. Doctors repeated the test more than 40 times; each time the result was positive.
Rufer began several months of chemotherapy, lost her hair and gained weight. She underwent a hysterectomy and had part of her right lung removed.
Finally, in January 1999, doctors told her she didn't have cancer.
During the trial, Abbott and the university tried to blame each other.
Abbott claimed doctors should have known the test can produce false results and that follow-up tests as simple as a urine analysis could have prevented the misdiagnosis.
The doctors said Abbott should have made it clear that the test could give false results.
"We respect the jury's efforts to make sense of the tragedy that occurred to Jennifer Rufer, her husband and their families," University of Washington Medical Center Dr. David Eschenbach said. "However ... we still firmly believe that this healthy young woman was harmed mainly because of a faulty laboratory test manufactured by Abbott Laboratories."
Keller, Abbott's attorney, said the ruling showed the test was "accurate and effective when it is used correctly by doctors."
Jennifer Rufer said she isn't angry.
"I've learned what my real priorities are," she said.
Am I crazy. the same test repeated FORTY times??????? Who payed for this excessive testing! Why did this woman loose part of her lung, ? due to chemo side effects? This story is missing some pieces, but important to know test has false positives, that is Abbott pregnancy test. Karen