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University of Iowa Physicians paying $600K to settle suit over cancer patient

Gazette - 8/1/2022

Aug. 1—IOWA CITY — University of Iowa Physicians — a medical and surgical group based in the Carver College of Medicine — has agreed to pay $600,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the North Liberty wife of a patient who died in August 2015 of complications from a metastatic neuroendocrine tumor.

Kathy Pierce brought a $2.5 million claim to the State Appeal Board on Aug. 7, 2017, accusing UI Hospitals and Clinics of negligence. The state denied it a year later, causing her to sue Dec. 26, 2018.

In her lawsuit, Pierce said UIHC in 2008 found the tumor in husband Christopher Pierce's abdomen, with metastasis to the liver and, over time, to the spine and right orbit. He participated in a clinical trial in 2013, shrinking lesions in his spine and eye, according to the suit.

UIHC conducted a series of CT scans over the years — including three in 2013, two in 2014 and two in 2015 — that showed "a tumor burden on the liver of between 10 percent and 15 percent."

At that start of 2015, Chris Pierce reported more symptoms, along with elevated liver function tests — despite the stable CT results.

"When Chris' symptoms kept getting worse, an MRI was performed at UIHC on July 8, 2015 which found micro-metastasis to significant parts of liver, with an estimated 95 percent tumor burden," according to the couple's appeal board claim. "This was a shock to Chris and his wife, Kathy, as they had been told that the serial imaging over the years showed no significant change."

Days after seeking a second opinion, Pierce went to the Mercy Medical Center emergency room in Cedar Rapids for cancer-induced complications of chronic liver failure, and he died Aug. 29, 2015, at age 67.

"If UIHC correctly interpreted the MRI to show 95 percent tumor burden, the failure to perform an earlier MRI deprived Chris of the opportunity to treat his cancer at an earlier point in time and avoid the significant burden on his liver," according to the lawsuit. "Chris lost a chance for a better outcome, and the negligent failure to diagnose his recurrent disease prevented him from taking advantage of alternative treatment at a more opportune time."

The state denied allegations and offered the affirmative defense that the "sole cause, proximate cause, or superseding cause of plaintiff's alleged injuries and damages, if any, may have been a preexisting medical condition and/or a subsequently occurring medical condition for which defendant is not responsible."

The state in January 2019 also asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit because, among other things, it wasn't filed in time. Claiming the lawsuit wasn't alleging "wrongful death" and instead negligence that the couple became aware of on July 8, 2015, the state argued Kathy Pierce had two years to file beginning then.

"Plaintiff did not file her claims with the State Appeal Board until August 7, 2017," according to the state. "As a result, plaintiff's claims are untimely."

Pierce disputed that, arguing her claims are based on the denial of a longer life — meaning the two-year clock started on his Aug. 29, 2015, death.

Although Pierce's original complaint sought $2.5 million, the State Appeal Board on Monday approved a $600,000 settlement, with UI Physicians paying all of it.

UI Physicians is a UI Carver College of Medicine-based medical and surgical clinical practice encompassing 1,000-plus physicians. Since 2004, the group has owned Iowa Medical Mutual Insurance Co., established to provide medical malpractice coverage on a claims-made basis to UI physicians.

In lawsuit-related settlements and judgments for the 2022 budget year that just ended, the state paid a total of $13.5 million total — including $5.2 million involving Board of Regents institutions including the UI, accounting for about 39 percent. UI Physicians last year hit its maximum out-of-pocket total of $9 million for settlements.

Last month, in the new budget year that began July 1, the state agreed to a $7.5 million UIHC medical malpractice settlement after a 41-year-old patient suffered life-limiting impairments following care for a bleeding brain tumor.

Although Iowa's Attorney General Offices assigned 75 percent of that payment to UI Physicians, the group has a $5 million cap per claim, putting $2.5 million of the settlement on the state's general fund.

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