Lawsuit settlement shows labs can be liable for patient injury

A recently settled negligence lawsuit reinforces the idea that hospitals may not have to take the blame for all patient injuries resulting from incorrect test results. A California laboratory agreed to pay $2.5 million after a faulty test failed to detect a boy’s critical disease, leading to his death.

The 2-year-old boy suffered from chronic granulomatous disease, a rare, inherited blood disorder that affects the immune system. Children with the disease must take measures to avoid certain bacteria and viruses, and they must be treated with interferon gamma. A doctor at the University of Florida treated the boy in 1994. The doctor suspected chronic granulomatous disease and sent a blood sample to Specialty Laboratories in Santa Monica, CA, for diagnosis.

The lab misdiagnosed the results, according to Miami attorney Don Russo, who represented the boy’s family. Since the test results showed the boy did not have the disease, the doctor did not treat the boy with interferon gamma. As a result, the boy easily succumbed to a bout of pneumonia in 1996. The family sued the laboratory, claiming that the nitroblue tetrazolium dye test was faulty.

In the discovery phase, it was revealed that the test may give inaccurate results when blood is sent across the country by air. Russo reports that the settlement is one of the first cases where an out-of-state laboratory was shown to have violated quality control regulations regarding the test in question.