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Lawsuit resumes over decades-old cancer test mix-up

by | Apr 19, 2021 | Medical Malpractice |

An appeals court has overturned a lower court ruling that tossed out an Ohio family’s lawsuit over a genetic cancer test error in 1999.

The decision allows the lawsuit by Michael and Susan Lonsway to proceed against Yale University and Michigan Medicine, which was called the University of Michigan Health System at the time of the mistake.

Genetic test results switched for two young girls

In 1999, the Lonsways brought their two young daughters to UM for genetic testing for melanoma, which was present in Michael’s family. The tests were then sent to Yale for analysis.

The results showed Cameryn, then age 3, had inherited the family’s genetic mutation putting her at high risk for melanoma, while Delaney, then age 5, apparently did not have the mutation.

As a result, the Lonsways took rigorous steps to protect Cameryn from the sun. But 17 years later, it was Delaney who developed skin cancer.

Routine audit discovers the error

In 2014, two years before Delaney’s cancer diagnosis, an audit discovered the Yale lab had switched the girls’ test results. The lab’s director immediately informed a UM official asking that the Lonsways be notified. But it never happened.

In 2016, doctors discovered two moles on Delaney, who by then was in her early 20s, the dermatologist wasn’t too concerned since she wasn’t considered high risk according to the genetic testing. Months later, a pathology report confirmed the moles were melanoma.

Subsequent testing reveals the truth

After Delaney’s diagnosis, Susan Lonsway spoke with a certified genetics counselor at UM, who denied that any mix-up had occurred, even though she was the first person informed two years earlier by Yale. The counselor encouraged Susan to have the girls retested but failed to return a follow-up call.

New tests at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center confirmed the mistake – Delaney carried the genetic mutation and not Cameryn. The Lonsways had spent years protecting the wrong daughter.

Dispute over the statute of limitations ensued

The Lonsways filed two lawsuits in 2018 against UM and Yale, which were later consolidated. A circuit court ruling in 2019 tossed out the claims, saying they came too late.

However, the appeals court determined the clock actually started ticking on taking legal action in August of 2017, when the family discovered the error.

Given that UM knew about the mix-up in 2014 but failed to inform the Lonsways, the court ruled the family’s claim is not subject to Michigan’s usual statute of limitations, allowing the case to resume.