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Merkel & Cocke’s Clients Receive a $23.6 Million Verdict in Medical Malpractice Case.

Memphis, TN – A Shelby County, Tennessee jury returned a $23,600,000 verdict in favor of Plaintiffs Courtney Hill and Robert Hill of Desoto County Mississippi on July 10, 2009. Plaintiffs’ counsel are William B. Raiford of the Clarksdale, Mississippi law firm of Merkel & Cocke, Jim Lees of the Charleston, West Virginia law firm of Hunt & Lees, and Philip Stroud of the Southaven, Mississippi firm of Stroud & Harper.

The lawsuit involved a claim of medical malpractice against Dr. Claudia Moise, and her clinic, OB-Gyn Specialists P.C. of Memphis, Tennessee, for failing to timely diagnose a complained of lump which later proved to be breast cancer.

On July 15, 2003, Courtney, then only 23 years old, called her Ob/Gyn’s office and reported to the receptionist that she had found a lump in her breast which had persisted for two months with “possible dimpling” and asked whether she should come in immediately. The nurse relayed the message in writing to Dr. Moise with a question to the doctor of whether the patient should have a mammogram. Dr. Moise informed her nurse to tell Courtney “no”, that she did not need to come in immediately and to tell Courtney to wait until Courtney’s next scheduled appointment two weeks away. Dr. Moise also advised the nurse that no mammogram was necessary.

At Courtney’s next appointment, Dr. Moise performed a scheduled gyn procedure. Despite the documented phone message, Dr. Moise had to be reminded to examine the complained of lump before the patient left. Based on the patient’s testimony, which Dr. Moise did not refute, Dr. Moise did an exam and advised Mrs. Hill that the lump she complained of was a cyst or fatty deposit, and that it was “nothing to worry about”. Dr. Moise’s decision not to perform further testing was based solely on palpation alone, despite her later admission under oath that she could not distinguish cancer from benign masses by palpation alone. Dr. Moise did not order an ultrasound or other testing, and did not arrange for any type of followup. Dr. Moise further did not document her findings in the medical record, and did not document any reminders to herself to further evaluate the complained of lump at a later date.

Mrs. Hill subsequently became pregnant. Ms. Hill was seen in the Defendants’ offices on 16 subsequent occasions without further evaluation or testing. Dr,. Moise admitted the patient kept every visit and complied with every recommendation made by Dr. Moise during the many years she was Courtney’s physician. Dr. Moise admitted she never ordered followup testing.

After her pregnancy, the lump was noticed by Courtney to be now larger and painful. Courtney called the Defendants’ offices but was unable to be seen by Defendant Moise because her schedule was already full. On February 14, 2005 (Valentine’s Day), Courtney was able to be seen by the Defendant’s partner, Dr. Paula Pilgrm. Dr. Pilgrim examined the breasts, found a suspicious mass and immediately ordered a mamogram and ultrasound, which confirmed a 4 cm mass. A biopsy the next day proved breast cancer. PET and CT scans the same week, and further biopsy, proved the breast cancer had mestatasized to Courtney’s liver, with no chance of cure despite the heroic efforts of Courtney’s treating oncologist, Dr. Lee Schwartzberg of Memphis’ The West Clinic. Courtney’s treatment included nine to ten separate rounds of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, a complete hysterectomy and radiation treatment. Dr. Schwatzberg is considered by many to be one of the country’s leading experts on breast cancer and was highly praised by Mr. and Mrs. Hill. Even experts paid by Dr. Moise to testify of her behalf at trial (some being paid up to $5000 a day) acknowledged Dr. Schwartberg to be Memphis’ leading expert on breast cancer.

Courtney was unable to be present at trial because of her health and testified by way of video deposition.

The Rev. Greg Davis of Desoto County testified of the Hills’ unwaivering faith in the face of adversity and as to the Hills’ constant positive attitude. Rev. Davis recalled that on the day of Courtney’s diagnosis the Hills had met privately with him and placed their hands in the Lord, with no fear. He further recalled that when Courtney initially lost her hair due to chemotherapy, the majority of the congregation, without being prompted by him, wore pink hats to church as a sign of their love and support of the Hills.

Robert and Courtney began dating in high school and were married one week after Courtney graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in biology. Courtney had gone on to teach fifth and sixth grade. Robert, at age 32, is the general manager of the local office of a major electronics firm which has over 1300 employees in the Memphis area. The proof at trial showed that Mr. Hill was an extremely loving husband and had been present for nearly every single time Courtney had been to the doctor dozens and dozens of times in their battle with cancer.

The Hills have one daughter, now age 4.

Dr. Moise made no offer of settlement before or during trial. Instead Dr. Moise argued that she complied with acceptable standard of medical care through her evaluation of the lump by palpation alone, and/or that whatever lump Courtney complained of in July 2003 was not the same lump found by Dr. Moise’s partner in 2005, and/or in the further alternative that, despite the 18 month delay in diagnosis, even if the lump Courtney had complained of in 2003 was in fact cancer it had already metastasized to Courtney’s liver in July 2003 making Dr. Moise not responsible for the Hills’ tragic situation. Dr. Moise’ was represented by attorney, William Domico of the Memphis law firm of Domico Kyle, which includes state senator Jim Kyle.

After a two week trial presided over by the Hon. Kay S. Robilio of Division 5 of the Circuit Court of Shelby County, Tennessee, the jury unanimously found that Dr. Moise, as an employee of her medical corporation, Ob/Gyn Specialists P.C., had violated the standard of acceptable medical care required in Memphis and that Dr. Moise’s actions did in fact cause injuries to Mr. and Mrs. Hill which would not have otherwise occurred.

The jury awarded the Plaintiffs a total of $23.6 million in damages for their tragic losses. The award included an award to $11,850,000 to Courtney Hill and an additional $11,750,000 to husband Robert Hill.

The Hills hope this award will help deter this type of medical negligence, and to prevent others from being harmed by such medical neglect in the future.

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