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Switched Pathology Specimen Results in Errant Prostate Surgery, $1 Million Settlement

Both urology clinic and pathology lab denied liability, so they shared payment of damages.

Published: March 6, 2012

After a patient underwent surgery for prostate cancer, it turned out he didn't have cancer to begin with. Lab samples had been mistakenly switched, either at the cancer clinic where the biopsy was done or at the pathology lab. The patient sued both the clinic and the lab and won a $1 million settlement paid by both of them.

Names of all parties in this lawsuit and the actual court venue were withheld due to the confidential nature of the settlement. The biopsy was conducted at the clinic to determine if the 60-year-old patient had prostate cancer. Clinic personnel placed the tissue sample in a container, labeled it and sent it to the pathology lab for testing.

The lab then determined the patient had prostate cancer and the patient underwent a robotic prostatectomy. But a sample taken from him after surgery showed he had no cancer at all. It was discovered that the original tissue sample had been switched with that of another patient who thought he was cancer-free. Exactly how the switch took place, however, was never cleared up.

After the prostatectomy, the patient suffered from urine leakage and erectile dysfunction due to the operation. He sued the urology clinic and the lab's pathologist for damages, but both the clinic and the lab denied responsibility for the error. A nurse at the clinic insisted she labeled the sample correctly and followed protocol to make sure the requisition form matched the specimen. The pathologist at the lab reported matching the name on the requisition form with the name on the specimen, and lab technicians and pathologists followed all protocols during analysis.

With no one specifically to blame for the mistake, both defendants shared payment in the June 2011 settlement. Walter H. Emroch, an attorney for the patient, did not respond to requests for comment. Names of the defendants' attorneys were withheld.

Click here for an Outpatient Surgery article on correctly identifying and labeling pathology specimens.

Leigh Page


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