A woman who is battling breast cancer after physicians initially failed to diagnose the disease has settled her lawsuit for $3.5 million.
The agreement came in mid-February but was finalized Monday in plaintiff TaRia Pulliam’s medical negligence case. In her suit, Pulliam alleged several of her physicians failed to identify and diagnose her cancer while it was in its early stages and still treatable.
After feeling a lump in her left breast, Pulliam visited Provena St. Joseph Hospital in Joliet in September 2010 and received an ultrasound on the mass. The hospital has since been acquired by Presence Health.
She was referred to a general surgeon with Advocate Medical Group in Tinley Park after the test results indicated the mass was suspicious and could be cancerous.
The surgeon initially told her to return in three weeks, but increased pain brought her back just three days later, said Jeffrey J. Tallis, a partner at Faklis, Tallis & Mead P.C., who represented Pulliam.
Pulliam then underwent a fine needle aspiration biopsy, in which a physician retrieves a tissue sample from the mass at issue by sticking a thin needle into the mass under ultrasound guidance.
A laboratory specialist with Advocate and a pathologist from Midwest Medical Group — who both worked with A2CL Services LLC — interpreted the results of that test to be negative for cancer. As a result, that’s what the surgeon relayed to Pulliam once he read the results himself.
“At that point, (the surgeon) has two different findings,” Tallis said. “He’s got a suspicious ultrasound, and he has a negative biopsy.”
At that point, Pulliam should have underwent another procedure to settle the difference between the tests, Michael C. Mead — a partner at Faklis, Tallis & Mead who also represented Pulliam.
“You have to do a third test, which would be a core needle biopsy, where you get a bigger sample,” he said. “A fine needle biopsy is the least invasive; it takes the least amount of tissue.”
But that didn’t happen. Instead, the surgeon left the mass in Pulliam’s breast and discharged her from his care.
About eight months later in July 2011, she learned through different physicians that the mass that initially worried her had grown and she was suffering from stage IV breast cancer.
Pulliam has been battling the disease ever since. She has undergone several rounds of treatment and received several surgeries to remove other tumors that had spread to her spine, skin, right femur, lungs, liver, pelvis, neck and skull.
“Part of the cancer that spread to her skull spread to her eye and her eye did not track properly,” Tallis said. “In other words, one of her eyes was turned in a little bit because there was a cancerous tumor behind her eyeball.”
Pulliam filed suit against the physicians and their respective employers in June 2012, alleging that their failure to properly interpret her fine-needle biopsy resulted in a delayed cancer diagnosis with lessened treatment effectiveness.
The defendants denied Pulliam’s allegations.
Partner Robert W. Smyth Jr. of Donohue, Brown, Mathewson & Smyth LLC represented Midwest Diagnostic and partner Donna Kaner Socol of Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick & Dym Ltd. — who represented A2CL could not be reached for comment.
Principal Robert L. Larsen of Cunningham, Meyer & Vedrine P.C. in Warrenville, who represented Advocate, said, “It was a tragic case, and we reached an agreement because we recognized that we have a young woman who is suffering from tragic circumstances and has two young kids.
“We thought that the right thing to do was not to drag everybody through a trial and try to reach an agreement that was in everybody’s best interest.”
The parties litigated the case toward an April 1 trial date when the defendants suggested a mediation. They mediated the case before retired judge Dennis J. Burke in February and settled the case through continued discussions lasted some days afterward.
Mead said ISMIE Mutual Insurance Co. insured Midwest and Advocate and agreed to pay $3.1 million of the settlement, and Advocate agreed to contribute another $400,000 on behalf of A2CL.
Although Pulliam continues her cancer treatment, Tallis said she is relieved that her two children — now 9 and 11 years old — are protected for their future.
“This case is every woman’s worst nightmare that someone has misread their pathology slides that you don’t have cancer and then you get cancer,” he said.
“We knew that her long-term prognosis was going to be difficult for her, but our job was to protect her children from the beginning and that’s what we did.”
Partner Nicholas J. Faklis of Faklis, Tallis & Mead and Robert M. Warsaski, owner of the Law Offices of Robert M. Warsaski, also represented Pulliam.
The case is TaRia Pulliam v. Midwest Diagnostic Pathology, S.C. et al., 12 L 6649.