The Hospital Lab Lost My Biopsy Sample, What Should I Do?

A biopsy is a tissue sample which can be placed on a slide and examined under a microscope to diagnose cancer, including breast cancer, lung cancer, oral cancer, skin cancer, and colorectal cancer (colon cancer).  When a hospital or outpatient laboratory negligently loses a patient’s biopsy specimen – a type of clinical laboratory malpractice which occurs more frequently than anyone would like to imagine – the result is that proper diagnosis is delayed, and the patient loses critical opportunities to start early treatment.  In the case of a potentially fatal illness like cancer, these types of careless medical mix-ups can deprive the patient of years of life.  

Do I Have a Case Against the Medical Lab That Lost My Biopsy?

According to a recent study published in Dermatologic Surgery, about one in every 1,500 biopsy specimens are lost.  That number sounds small at first, but becomes much larger once you consider the huge number of biopsies which are performed each year.  (Breast biopsies alone, for instance, add up to about 1.6 million procedures annually.)  The study found that, in most cases, the cause of loss is “non-insertion of the specimen into the container by medical staff.”  

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If a medical laboratory lost your biopsy, you may have what’s called a “cause of action,” or grounds for filing a lawsuit.  While you cannot be certain about the strength of your case until you speak to an experienced malpractice attorney, gaining a basic understanding the key elements of personal injury litigation is a good first step.  Do the following statements apply to your situation? 

  1. The hospital laboratory failed to provide you with the normal level of care that you would have received from other laboratories – in this scenario, by misplacing your biopsy.  This element is called “breach of duty.”
  2. The loss of your biopsy resulted from actions taken by laboratory staff.  This element is called “causation.”
  3. You suffered harm as a result of your biopsy being lost.  This element is called “damages.”

If you think these statements describe your experience, you should strongly consider contacting Whitney, LLP to discuss the legal options which may be available to you.  Our medical malpractice attorneys always provide completely free initial consultations, so you won’t have to spend a dime to get a comprehensive assessment.  

What Are Damages in a Clinical Laboratory Malpractice Lawsuit?

The final element described above, damages, is critically important.  Consider the following three scenarios:

  • Hospital Lab A loses Patient A’s biopsy, and realizes the error in a matter of days. Patient A is notified the moment the mistake comes to the laboratory’s attention, and a second biopsy procedure is scheduled right away.  The biopsy confirms the presence of cancer, and the patient is scheduled for surgery.  Because the loss of the original biopsy was noticed quickly and rectified promptly, it was possible to make a diagnosis and schedule surgery before Patient A’s cancer had the chance to metastasize.   
  • Hospital Lab B loses Patient B’s biopsy.  However, when the results of the second biopsy come back, Patient B is perfectly healthy.
  • Hospital Lab C loses Patient C’s biopsy.  Laboratory personnel don’t notice their mistake for weeks.  Concerned about the slow progress, Patient C tries calling the lab several times, but is repeatedly given vague information or told to call back at another time.  By the time a second biopsy can be performed and analyzed, Patient C’s cancer has had the chance to metastasize, giving Patient C a poorer prognosis than they would have received with timely intervention. Extremely aggressive and expensive treatments will now be necessary, and the cancer will be harder to treat effectively.

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All three of these scenarios depict negligence, because in each example, the laboratory workers made an error and failed to provide the patient with the normal standard of care. However, the negligence depicted in the first two scenarios ultimately did not cause harm. Patient A received treatment within a reasonable period of time, and Patient B did not require any treatment at all.  

By comparison, the third scenario depicts a patient whose health was actively harmed by careless laboratory errors.  Because the laboratory’s negligence resulted in damages, Patient C might have a strong case, whereas Patients A and B do not.

If a Maryland medical lab lost your biopsy, including Quest Diagnostics or LabCorp, you may be entitled to compensation for the harm you suffered as a result.  Call the law offices of Whitney, LLP at (410) 583-8000 to set up a free and confidential case evaluation today.


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