Melanoma is 'unforgiving' disease, pathologist testifies in med mal retrial

Amelia Flood Jul. 26, 2010, 1:25pm


Jurors watched two video depositions from a pathologist and oncologist as the retrial of a seven year-old medical malpractice case went into its fourth day in Madison County.

Dr. Louis Dehner of Washington University in St. Louis and Dr. Clay Anderson of the University of Missouri-Columbia each testified about the malignant melanoma that killed Maria Storm, wife of plaintiff Douglas Storm, five years ago.

Douglas Storm is suing Dr. Patrick Zimmermann of Collinsville for allegedly failing to properly diagnose the skin cancer when he removed a mole from Maria Storm's back in 1999.

Maria Storm was diagnosed with cancer in 2003 and died in 2005.

Her husband seeks at least $50,000 in damages per count of his suit and costs.

The doctor denies that he failed to properly treat Maria Storm.

The case went to a jury in January 2007, and that jury found for Zimmermann.

The verdict was thrown out, however, after it was discovered a juror lied about his role in two pending Madison County lawsuits.

The current trial, which opened last Tuesday, has already seen one juror excused and another delay the proceedings because she overslept.

Dehner, a pathologist, testified that he did not find melanoma cells when he examined tissue from the site of the removed mole.

Under questioning by defense counsel Ted Dennis, Dehner told jurors that melanoma is a "capricious" disease that can progress without a primary site ever being found.

"It's a pretty unforgiving disease," the pathologist said.

Dehner also dismissed that the history of the mole was overly important to his findings about Maria Storm's condition.

"It was a history of something interesting on the skin but it was irrelevant," Dehner said.

Under questioning by plaintiff's attorney Rex Carr, Dehner acknowledged that the mole could have indicated at the earlier date that Maria Storm had cancer but he could not say.

Dehner also discounted that there were any signs that Maria Storm had spontaneous regression of the melanoma which would have led to the absence of cancerous cells at the later examination of the mole site.

Dehner continued with that opinion when asked follow-up questions by Dennis.

"It's a scar," Dehner said of the site and lack of signs of regression. "There was nothing under the microscope to suggest that."

At points, Dehner and Carr interrupted each other on the video, arguing about the forms of questions Carr asked and certain medical issues.

Anderson's deposition was set to begin after 3 p.m., with indications that jurors would view evidence until nearly 6 p.m.

The trial will resume Tuesday with more testimony in the plaintiff's case.

Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder presides.

Crowder helmed the suit's first trial in 2007.

The case is Madison case number 03-L-999.

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