Housewife sues medical lab and pathologist for negligence after husband dies of skin cancer

SINGAPORE - The widow of an IT specialist who died from skin cancer in 2013 is seeking damages of at least $10.4 million from a medical laboratory and a pathologist.

Housewife Carol Ann Armstrong, 52, alleged that Quest Laboratories and its medical director, Dr Tan Hong Wui, were negligent for failing to detect a malignant cancer in a skin sample taken from her husband Peter Traynor in 2009.

A hearing into the medical negligence suit started in the High Court on Tuesday (Jan 16).

Mr Traynor was a Singapore-based executive IT specialist manager with IBM who earned about half a million dollars a year. The couple are permanent residents from Canada.

In 2009, he developed a skin lesion on his back that became ulcerous. He saw a general practitioner, who removed a piece of his skin and sent it to the lab for a pathology report.

The report issued by the lab stated that there was "no malignancy".

More than two years later, in January 2012, Mr Traynor sought medical attention for a swelling under his armpit and underwent tests which showed cancer spreading to other parts of the body.

His oncologist recalled the 2009 specimen and another pathologist concluded there was malignant cancer. Mr Traynor was treated for cancer but died in December 2013 at the age of 49.

Ms Armstrong, who is represented by Mr Edmund Kronenburg, sued the lab and Dr Tan in 2015. Among other things, she is seeking about $3.3 million in dependency claims and about $5 million for loss of inheritance, which is the wealth her husband would have accumulated had he not died.

She contended that the missed diagnosis deprived her husband of medical treatment for two years. If the cancer had been correctly diagnosed, allowing him to be treated, he would have had at least a 64.4 per cent chance of long-term survival, she contended.

The lab, represented by Mr Lek Siang Pheng, argued that Dr Tan had conducted a proper examination of the specimen and arrived at a reasonable finding. The lab argued that even if the cancer was diagnosed in 2009, the treatment he would have received would likely not have made a difference to his survival.

Dr Tan, represented by Ms Kang Yixian, noted that the same specimen was seen by three other pathologists who arrived at different diagnoses. He argued that a difference in opinion did not mean that he was negligent.