Recently, the New York Times highlighted the problem of fatal mistakes in cancer testing. (“A Botched Caner Test, a National Scandal, and an Irish Hero”, New York Times, November 16, 2022)
Under the auspices of an Irish government program, Vicky Phalen underwent “routine” cervical cancer testing in 2011. The Irish government contracted the testing to an American company, Clinical Pathology Laboratories, Inc., of Austin, Texas. The company reported the test as normal, but in fact, it had signs of cancer.
Ms. Phalen was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer in 2014 and later learned of the 2011 error. The Irish government and the lab offered to settle but insisted on non-disclosure. Ms. Phalen refused to keep the mistake quiet and proceeded to trial, where she was awarded $2.6 million.
Ms. Phalen's persistence revealed some 220 other Irish women also developed cervical cancer after receiving negative results in the state-run program. Thirty of these women have died.
This matter has caused a scandal in Ireland and made Ms. Phalen a national hero. Unfortunately, despite outliving her diagnosis much longer than predicted, Ms. Phalen died last month at the age of 48.
Before her death, Ms. Phalen addressed Irish officials, stating “I don't want your apologies. I don't want your tributes. I don't want your aide-de-camp at my funeral. I don't want your accolades or your broken promises. I want action. I want change. I want accountability.”
Cases of erroneous cancer screening are not limited to Ireland and are not limited to cervical cancer. We have seen numerous such cases here, involving all types of cancer screening, often with fatal results.
Ms. Phalen was correct that in such cases and at the very least, accountability is necessary, and one admires her heroism and tenacity in pursuing her legal rights and in exposing the horrendous breadth of the problem.
At Schmidt, Sethi & Akmajian, we will carefully investigate cases of erroneous cancer testing and seek accountability where appropriate.