Dentist must pay $11M for delayed diagnosis

Lawsuit Gavel Money

A dentist in Pennsylvania must pay $11 million for purportedly not evaluating a patient’s tongue sore that ended up being cancerous and for trying to undercut the claim by withholding or destroying dental records, according to a story published in the Legal Intelligencer.

On February 22, a jury in Pennsylvania ruled that Dr. Linda Shen, who has three practices in Northeastern Pennsylvania, must pay $11 million, including $8 million in punitive damages, to patient Mary Heffelfinger. Punitive damages are awarded as punishment when a jury deems a defendant’s actions were intentional and the damages are necessary to deter similar misconduct in the future.

Over a period of about seven months, Heffelfinger alleged she saw Shen eight times to discuss a sore on her tongue. However, the patient claimed that Shen never referred her for a biopsy. Furthermore, Heffelfinger claimed that Shen’s inaction led her lesion to develop into stage IV squamous cell carcinoma, requiring her to undergo chemotherapy and have part of her tongue removed.

After Heffelfinger received her tongue cancer diagnosis, she allegedly requested her dental records from Shen. The dentist reportedly stated that she would only release her dental records if Heffelfinger signed a liability waiver. Then the patient alleged that Shen intentionally withheld or destroyed the records when Heffelfinger refused to sign the waiver, according to the story.

Heffelfinger claimed that Shen withheld the records because she knew she was responsible for delaying her diagnosis. However, Shen purportedly attempted to provide Heffelfinger with her records but couldn’t find them. Shen accused Heffelfinger’s sister, an employee at her dental practice, of having stolen the records, according to the story.

Shen testified that her treatment was not negligent and claimed that she had referred Heffelfinger to a specialist to address the lesion and that the delay in her cancer diagnosis was due to her not following doctors’ instructions, according to the story.

After Shen testified, she left the court and never returned for the rest of the trial, according to the story.

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