Melanoma expert says plaintiff theory is 'preposterous' in med mal retrial

By Amelia Flood | Jul 29, 2010



A defense expert on skin cancer refuted theories that a woman's removed mole was the site of the skin cancer that killed her as a Madison County medical malpractice trial continued Thursday.

Dr. Kelly McMasters of the University of Louisville said there were a number of reasons why he believed Maria Storm's cancer did not start in the site treated by defendant Dr. Patrick Zimmermann of Collinsville as claimed by her husband, plaintiff Douglas Storm.

McMasters at times used blunt language in dismissing the mole as the site of the disease that killed Maria Storm in 2005.

"This is a classic case of an unknown primary melanoma," McMasters said.

In dismissing a theory about the body's healing process destroying the evidence of melanoma at the site, the doctor was matter of fact.

"I think I called it hogwash the last time or preposterous," he said. "I'll call it both this time."

Douglas Storm is suing Zimmermann for allegedly failing to properly test a mole he removed from Maria Storm's back in 1999 and failing to diagnose it as cancer.

Zimmermann claims he properly treated the mole.

Douglas Storm's suit seeks damages of at least $50,000 per count and other relief.

Maria Storm first had the mole in question removed in 1998 by Maryville Dr. Anthony Malench.

She saw Zimmermann after it re-grew in 1999.

Maria Storm was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2003. The disease at that time was found in the lymph nodes under her left arm and a nodule of it was found in her liver.

The cancer spread and she died at age 36 two years later.

The case was previously tried in January 2007 and jurors found for Zimmermann.

The verdict was later thrown out after it came to light one of the jury's members lied about his role in two pending Madison County personal injury lawsuits.

The appellate court ordered a new trial last year.

The current trial has featured the testimony of experts discussing the mole as a possible cancer site, its possible "spontaneous regression," and other facts about the disease.

Jurors have watched several video depositions including that of Maria Storm and a video of her life.

The trial was held up last week by a juror who overslept.

One juror has already been excused for unspecified reasons.

McMasters is the second expert to testify in the defense case that began Wednesday.

McMasters said he has never in his career seen a melanoma begin on the right side of the back and spread exclusively to the left side of the body.

"I've never seen that happen," he said.

He testified that the disease can spread in more than one way and that Zimmermann's treatment was the standard way to deal with most skin lesions.

McMasters did not form opinions, he said, about Zimmermann's treatment of Maria Storm.

He testified about her disease.

In his opinion, the doctor said, Maria Storm had a melanoma that began with an undetermined site.

He did not believe it began at the site of the mole removed by Zimmermann.

"In my opinion why this is not the primary melanoma site . . . there was never a recurrence in that area," McMasters said. "There's never been any evidence there's melanoma there."

The doctor said it was not uncommon for physicians never to find the site of some melanomas and that he's experienced it himself many times.

"We reach high and low. We search everywhere in the body we can," McMasters said. "But sometimes we never find the primary melanoma."

Plaintiff's counsel Rex Carr declined to begin his cross examination after defense counsel Ted Dennis finished his direct examination of McMasters at 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

Cross examination was to begin at 12:45 p.m.

Indications are that the defense will complete its case Friday.

Closing arguments may be held Friday or Monday, depending on what time the case's testimony concludes and other factors.

According to comments made by Dennis, Zimmermann is his last witness and will testify Friday.

The suit's trial opened July 20 with juror selection.

Crowder oversaw the suit's original trial as well.

It also lasted more than two weeks.

The case is Madison case number 03-L-899.

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