The facts of this case were simple and sad. A Marine veteran in his early 60’s underwent treatment for Hepatitis C. In recent years, incredible drugs have been developed which can essentially cure this disease. Indeed, that is what happened here: After treatment in 2015, the veteran had an undetectable viral load.
The veteran also had a cirrhotic liver. Because of that, he remained at risk of hepatocellular carcinoma of the liver even after his Hepatitis C was successfully treated. The VA healthcare providers recognized this and the need was well-documented in the records. The patient needed an ultrasound of his liver every six months.
The ultrasounds never happened.
By the time the veteran was diagnosed, his cancer was quite advanced. He suffered terribly and died only four months later. He left a widow and adult children.
With regard to his care at the VA, there was really no question that it was deficient. That was clear from the records. The VA lawyer handling the claim did not even make an effort to defend what happened.
Of course, negligence is only part of the equation. We also had to show that the death would have been prevented if there had been appropriate care. In that regard, almost all cancer diagnosis cases can get sticky, and that is even more so with a case like this. If the cancer had been detected early – as it should have been – the curative treatment is a liver transplant. Put in lay terms, a liver transplant involves a lot of moving parts. One also has to consider the patient’s other conditions.
While we could have proved that a transplant likely would have been successful – and we have done so in other cases – we also had to consider that this could have ended up being a battle of experts if we had litigated the matter. Especially in the setting of a bench trial, that has risk.
Fortunately, the VA was willing to negotiate a settlement without us having to file suit. Such resolutions are good for the client as the fees are lower (20% versus 25%) and the cost savings are huge. The VA was even fairly quick about it. The whole process of the claim only took about a year, which is relatively fast. We were just lucky that the VA lawyer assigned to the case was both very competent and very conscientious.
It’s also worth noting that the VA knows us very well. They understand that we know what we are doing, both as to the complicated medical issues and the peculiarities of FTCA cases. I can’t objectively measure what impact that has on our ability to prosecute these cases, but I am confident that it is significant. Experience matters and our clients benefit.