Widow awarded $1.2m in suit against medical lab

Quest Laboratories and its medical director failed to spot cancer in a skin sample taken from husband

The High Court has awarded more than $1.2 million to a widow who sued a medical laboratory and its medical director for failing to detect cancer in a skin sample taken from her husband.

Housewife Carol Ann Armstrong, 52, had alleged that Quest Laboratories and Dr Tan Hong Wui were negligent as they failed to spot the cancer in a skin sample from her husband Peter Traynor in 2009.

Mr Traynor, a Singapore-based information technology specialist, died from skin cancer in 2013 at age 47. The Canadian couple have two children, who were then aged 12 and 10.

Mr Traynor developed an ulcerous skin lesion on his back in 2009 and a sample was sent to the lab for a pathology report. The report stated that there was "no malignancy".

In January 2012, Mr Traynor developed a swelling under his armpit and consulted oncologist Ang Peng Tiam. Dr Ang called for the 2009 specimen, and another pathologist concluded there was malignant cancer.

Justice Choo Han Teck, in judgment grounds issued on Wednesday, said: "Dr Tan was negligent in law in sending a report indicating a clean bill of health when the circumstances required, at the very least, further examination on his part."

Dr Tan examined a deeper section of the same specimen and reported on Feb 13, 2012, that the sample was "suggestive of a melanoma".

The judge queried if Dr Tan's first report in 2009 of " no malignancy" was wrong.

"We must not judge a doctor more harshly for an error in interpretation, for it is in the nature of interpretations to invite company and diversity; some may agree with the same interpretation that others will vehemently reject," said Justice Choo.

The judge added that if Dr Tan had checked the "deeper, clearer portions" of the skin specimen at the time, his 2009 report would have stated "suggestive of melanoma'', as his second report did.

Dr Tan's lawyer, Ms Kang Yixian, argued that even if he had been negligent, his first report did not cause Mr Traynor's death as by then, the cancer had already spread through his body, based on expert medical evidence from Professor John Chia.

Ms Armstrong's lawyers Edmund Kronenburg, Benavon Lee and Christopher Goh disputed the defence claims.

Among other things, they brought in expert oncologist William McCarthy, who testified that the cancer had not spread beyond the armpits until after 2009. He said surgical removal of the affected lymph nodes would therefore have arrested the spread of the cancer.

Justice Choo accepted Professor McCarthy's assessment "with some caution" and found that Dr Tan's negligence had caused Mr Traynor "to lose a fighting chance, and also probably caused him to die years earlier".