Same-Sex Couple Files Malpractice Lawsuit

NudeSTAMFORD, CONNECTICUTMargaret Mueller and Charlotte Stacey were among the first same-sex couples to take advantage of the state’s new civil union law by further cementing their relationship of 20 years on Nov. 12, 2005.
Today they will make legal history, filing the state’s first medical malpractice lawsuit seeking damages for loss of consortium arising from Mueller’s battle with cancer.
Prior to the enactment of the civil union statute on Oct. 1 last year, only Connecticut couples in a relationship validated by a marriage certificate could seek compensation for loss of consortium – or serious disruption of a relationship – in a civil lawsuit claiming medical malpractice, wrongful death or other acts of negligence. The civil union law vested in same-sex couples the same rights and privileges as married couples.
“It’s an absolute nightmare of a situation that could have happened to anybody,” attorney Joshua Koskoff said of the claims that two oncologists misread or failed to read a pathologist’s report and treated Mueller for the wrong form of cancer. That failure, the lawsuit contends, allowed the cancer to proliferate and resulted in removal of a portion of her intestines and colon, necessitating the use of a colostomy bag.
“Malpractice doesn’t discriminate,” Koskoff said. “Victims of malpractice are straight and gay, rich and poor, Republican and Democratic, even doctors. Since malpractice doesn’t discriminate, there should be no discrimination in the laws that apply to victims of malpractice.”
Koskoff originally filed the lawsuit earlier this year on Mueller’s behalf only. He said after spending a great deal of time with the couple, he was inspired to amend the lawsuit in Stamford Superior Court to seek damages on Stacey’s behalf as well.
“It was when I met them that I realized the deep commitment they had to each other was so remarkable,” Koskoff said. “I realized what Charlotte has gone through in changing her life out of devotion to Marge.”
The two women are scheduled to open their Norwalk home to reporters this morning to discuss the ramifications of Mueller’s illness and more than three years of treatment for ovarian cancer, when the cancer she had originated in the appendix and required a very different treatment regimen.
According to the lawsuit, Mueller went to her gynecologist in August 2001, complaining of a pain in her side, and tests indicated it was cancer-related. She was referred to Dr. Iris Wertheim, who specializes in gynecological oncology. In October, Wertheim performed a complete hysterectomy and removed Mueller’s appendix. The cancerous tumors were sent to a pathologist, who issued a written report identifying Mueller’s cancer as pseudomyxoma peritonie, known as PMP – a cancer of the appendix.
Wertheim referred Mueller to Dr. Isidore Tepler, who specializes in the treatment of ovarian cancer, and she remained in his care through April 2005. She was given chemotherapy for ovarian cancer, which left her too weak to climb the stairs of their Stamford condominium. Mueller, 59, and Stacey, 55, subsequently sold the condominium and bought a ranch house.
The lawsuit contends Mueller was told by Tepler in 2002 that she was cancer free, only to learn the next year she had extensive cancer. Tepler, she said, assured her that he could put the cancer into remission. It was only when she consulted another doctor for a second opinion in April 2005 that she learned she had been treated for the wrong form of cancer. She underwent a 12-hour operation that same month to have as much of the cancer removed as possible, which included the removal of part of her intestines and colon.
Tepler, reached at his home late Monday, defended his treatment of Mueller.
“I want you to know that I feel so sad that Ms. Mueller is so ill,” Tepler said. “However, my treatment of her condition was entirely correct.”
Tepler said the state Department of Public Health conducted a thorough review of Mueller’s complaint against him, seeking to have his license to practice revoked, and found no merit in it. This could not be confirmed Monday night.
Stacey had endured the anguish of watching Mueller undergo debilitating chemotherapy, only to grow increasingly weak and ill.
“It’s been a nightmare,” Stacey said Monday night. “We’ve gone from total despair, initially thinking she had one kind of cancer, to being given a sense that everything’s going to be fine, then going 21/2 years seeing her going downhill and being totally helpless. It would be like anyone seeing a loved one die; there are no words to describe it.”
Stacey said Mueller is in better physical condition now than she has been in years. “We’re calling it the miracle year,” Stacey said. “Her attitude is unbelievable.”
Throughout the ordeal, Stacey took much time off from her work in the insurance industry. Now, she takes nothing for granted.
“Right now Marge and I have no regrets about anything we try to do, because we’re living in the moment,” Stacey said.
That Mueller’s diagnosis and much of her medical treatment predated the couple’s civil union should not be a bar to a loss of consortium claim, Koskoff said.
“Their relationship should be recognized as that of a married couple, because they were prohibited through discrimination from consecrating their bond,” Koskoff said. Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Tepler, Wertheim and Hematology Oncology, a private corporation. Wertheim could not be reached for comment.
from Hartford Courant

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