Deceased smoker’s family receives damages as doctor failed to diagnose cancer

Nova Gorica – The family of a 56-year-old who died of lung cancer almost ten years ago will receive EUR 77,000 in damages after his pulmonologist at the Nova Gorica hospital failed to diagnose him with lung cancer, several Slovenian newspapers report on Thursday.

The Nova Gorica District Court has ruled that the man being diagnosed with lung cancer a year too late reduced his chances of survival.

The man, who was a heavy smoker, came to the hospital in Šempeter pri Gorici in the summer of 2012 because he was short of breath and had difficulty breathing.

Pulmonologist Damjan Birtič suspected that the 5cm growth could be lung cancer but nevertheless treated the patient only with antibiotics.

Since his condition was deteriorating, the patient went to a private clinic, which immediately referred him to Golnik, the main hospital for respiratory diseases. There, he was told in the summer of 2013 that he had advanced lung cancer, and he died a few months later.

His family turned to court seeking damages from the hospital soon after his death. Judge Silvana Pavlin Kuščer now said in her ruling that the hospital had made an inexcusable professional error.

“The specialist doctors at the Dr Franc Derganc Hospital acted unprofessionally and unlawfully by failing to carry out a definitive diagnosis, thus neither confirming nor refuting the malignant process of the right lung,” the judge was quoted by the newspapers.

A quicker diagnosis would have allowed the deceased to receive a wider range of treatment and, most likely, a longer survival, she added.

Pulmonologist Birtič is meanwhile being tried for the patient’s death at the court’s criminal department. He was initially acquitted of charges of negligent treatment and of negligent practising of medicine in March 2019, but the Koper Higher Court overturned the ruling and ordered a retrial.