Family Receives $15 Million after Fatal Doses of Radiation

Medical malpractice attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report on a recent settlement by the family of a lung cancer patient who suffered severe injuries after being exposed to overdoses of radiation. The family settled with the medical services company, Varian Medical Systems, in the amount of $15 million.

The man, Zacarias Chichioco Jr., died in May 2011 after received about 2.5 times the appropriate amount of radiation during 21 of 35 treatments. The error was reportedly caused by a glitch in the software. After his death his family filed suit against the medical center where he was receiving radiation treatments, Pacific Center Institute in Hawaii, as well as Varian Medical Systems, which developed the defective software.

Chichioco was diagnosed with lung cancer in February 2008, over three years before his death. His oncologists developed a treatment plan based around Varian Systems’ Eclipse medical device, which delivers radiation through a linear accelerator. His doctor started him on a regimen of 35 radiation treatments, however, after the first few sessions Chichioco quickly suffered severe side effects, such as hallucinations, hearing loss, and partial face paralysis.

Chichioco underwent several skin graft operations to relieve the side effects, to no avail. His family’s lawsuit points to a software update by Varian in May 2007 – less than a year before Chichioco began radiation treatments – informing them of the programming error. The glitch was in the treatment planning software, however, Varian did not include any notes to Pacific Center on how to avoid the programming error.

A review later conducted by Pacific Center revealed that Chichioco received 2.5 the appropriate dose of radiation during his first 21 treatment rounds. He ultimately died from his lung cancer, however, his family asserts that it was the toxic doses of radiation that weakened his immune system, directly leading to his death. He had survived three years with the cancer before starting radiation.

Near the end of his life Chichioco refused to see any more doctors, citing a complete loss of trust for the medical system. He also refused any type of treatment for his cancer, which ultimately killed him. His family settled with Varian and Pacific Center for $15 million – $13.5 million of which will be paid by Varian.

In related news, a recently study by Duke University Medical Center found that doctors were much more likely to order unnecessary knee imaging when they had a financial stake in the equipment. As illustrated above, unnecessary MR images can result in an array of side effects from radiation exposure, particularly if the equipment or software is in any way defective.

Researchers found that MRI scans were read as negative significantly more often in patients who were referred by a doctor with ownership interest in the imaging equipment (33% negative) than those without any financial incentive (25% negative). The results were recently published in the medical journal Radiology.

The retrospective review could not prove that physicians were ordering knee MRIs in pursuit of profit, however, the numbers speak pretty clearly. Researchers highlighted the poignancy of this study, as it is published in the midst of great national debate over the rising cost of health care. They affirm that the inherent conflict of interest in doctors ordering and performing MR imaging examinations and then collecting fees on their acquisitions is an important factor.

They further noted that self-referral in MR diagnostic imaging continues to increase among physicians, and is a major contributor to higher imaging costs. Bilateral scans were also more than twice as likely to be ordered by orthopedists with ownership in the MRI scanners. Patient cohort remained similar throughout the study.

Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm have over two decades of experience advocating on behalf of those injured through medical negligence. If you or a loved one suffered serious injuries after a doctor, nurse or surgeon deviated from the standard level of care, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to significant compensation for any medical bills and lost wages.

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