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$5.7 Million Verdict Awarded in Lawsuit Against UPMC

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The husband of a woman who died from liver cancer in 2012 won a $5.7 million jury verdict Thursday (April 9, 2015) for medical malpractice against UPMC and a doctor at Hillman Cancer Center.

Ellen Weiss Kander, who co-founded the Steeltown Entertainment Project and was active in a number of Pittsburgh organizations, died June 5, 2012. She was 51.

Her husband, Gregg M. Kander of Squirrel Hill, filed a lawsuit Aug. 5, 2013, against physician Mounzer Agha, UPMC and University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, including claims of professional negligence and wrongful death.

The case went to trial March 30, and the jury deliberated over three days before returning its verdict Thursday morning. In a statement, UPMC said it would appeal.

Mr. Kander’s attorney, Harry S. Cohen, argued that the defendants failed to properly diagnose a lesion on Ms. Kander’s liver, and that, when caught early, liver cancer is curable.

“It could have been surgically removed for a complete cure,” he said.

“We extend our deep sympathy to the Kander family,” UPMC said in its statement. “We do, though, respectfully disagree with both the verdict and damages, and we will file a motion asking the court to overturn the verdict.”

In a court filing on behalf of Dr. Agha and UPMC, defense attorneys said that Ms. Kander was treated aggressively and appropriately for suspected lymphoma, and that her symptoms did not suggest the type of liver cancer she had.

According to the complaint, Ms. Kander had concerns about enlarged lymph nodes and possible lymphoma and had a CT scan in September 2007 that showed a liver lesion of 1.9 centimeters. Ms. Kander was referred to Dr. Agha and began treatment with him later that year.

During a follow-up visit on April 9, 2008, according to the lawsuit, Dr. Agha did not believe a liver biopsy was necessary. On Aug. 28, 2009, he recommended “watchful waiting,” the complaint said, and suggested that if Ms. Kander remained without symptoms, another scan should be conducted in the next year.

According to the complaint, another scan was never scheduled.

The lawsuit charges that Ms. Kander saw Dr. Agha and other UPMC specialists repeatedly over the next several months, but no tests were scheduled to investigate the liver lesion.

On May 3, 2011, Ms. Kander had a CT scan at Mayo Clinic, which revealed “a grossly enlarged liver lesion which ultimately proved to be an 11 centimeter malignant liver tumor,” the complaint said.

“By the time it was discovered, it was the size of a softball, literally,” Mr. Cohen said.

Had scans caught the liver tumor earlier, the attorney said, Ms. Kander could have made a full recovery.