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Maine Medicine: The Dirty Secret of “Don’t Warn, Don’t Treat”

Well, it’s official.  Here in Maine it is perfectly alright for a doctor to hide the fact that you have a possibly cancerous tumor from you.  He can violate his duty to disclose the existence of a “dark spot” on an x-ray  until the cancer has progressed to a point when the treatment is horrific, or even to the point where no amount of treatment will work and you face certain death.

In a recent Maine Supreme Court case  the Court referred to Maine’s Health Security Act that sets the statute of limitations for suing a doctor or hospital at three years.  In  Dickey v. Vermette, Mrs. Maetta Dickey was a regular dental patient of  Dr. Vermette.  In March 2000 she had an x-ray that showed a “dark spot” .  Her dentists didn’t tell Mrs. Dickey about the dark spot, or ask her if she wanted any follow-up.  Instead, they kept the information to themselves, and decided that they would just “keep an eye on it.”  The dentists kept an eye on it for FIVE YEARS.  Then the dentist referred Mrs. Dickey to an oral surgeon who diagnosed the oral cancer.  But, because the cancer had progressed so far, a big piece of Mrs. Dickey’s face had to be cut out to make sure the tumor was removed.

Not every Justice on Maine’s high court thinks that “Don’t Warn, Don’t Treat” is legal in Maine.  Justice Alexander thinks that the Court’s opinion is “contrary to good law, good medicine, and good common sense.”  Justice Alexander points to the fact that Mrs. Dickey had a special, confidential, doctor/patient relationship with her dentist.  Justice Alexander stated the plain fact that, in medicine, “when a suspicious dark spot appears on an x-ray, and cannot be otherwise explained, there should be disclosure and warning to the patient, further investigation, and forensic testing for the possibility of cancer.” And while one Maine law says that medical malpractice cases must be filed within three years of the negligent act, another Maine law says that the three years is “tolled” where a plaintiff has failed to learn of a negligent act as a result of defendant’s fraud.  And “fraud” doesn’t just mean hiding an important fact on purpose, or lying.  Fraud in Maine also means not telling someone you have a “special relationship” with information that there is a duty to disclose.  Like a doctor’s duty to disclose that you might have cancer.

Justice Silver also thought Mrs. Dickey should have been able to base her claim on facts that related back to the 2000 failure to tell about the dark spot.
But Justice Alexander and Justice Silver are in the minority.  All of Maine’s other Justices say their hands are tied by the law that says doctors are only responsible for their mistakes going three years back.

So, if your doctor finds a possibly cancerous tumor on your x-ray, and waits until three years and one day to let you know about it, you cannot do anything about it.  Even if you have huge medical bills that were caused by the three year delay, even if you are going to die and leave your family without a bread-winner, even if the three year delay ruins everything you built your life on, too bad for you.
Maine-TheWay Life Should Be…

For Doctors Who Sit On Critical Patient Information For Three Years!!!

Copyright 2009 Briggs & Wholey