A 1 in 1.09 quintillion chance

A North Carolina woman sued a hospital for failing to correctly diagnose her husband’s cancer. Except they did diagnose it correctly:

…Linda Brown alleged that Charlotte Regional contaminated tissue samples during a lung biopsy in 2000 which resulted in the wrong cancer diagnosis of small cell lung cancer. … Brown’s attorneys argued that due to hospital technicians not wearing gloves or due to unsanitary conditions, Gerald Brown’s tissue was contaminated with someone else’s DNA.

The defense argued that’s nearly impossible because someone would have had to actually have lung tissue containing the cancer cells on his fingertips while when he handled the sample.

The hospital’s attorneys argued during opening statements last week that the chances of Gerald Brown’s DNA being contaminated was 1 in 1.09 quintillion. In fact, the chances of that happening may be even greater since that one-in-a-quintillion person would have to be in Punta Gorda, inside Charlotte Regional, having a lung biopsy at the same time and have small cell lung cancer. But no one else in the hospital was undergoing a lung biopsy at the same time as Gerald Brown on March 22, 2000.

The jury ruled in favor of the hospital, but the case took four years and several hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend. That’s OK with Mrs. Brown, because now she knows “the truth.” Apparently, neither she nor her lawyers, thought of having an autopsy to discover the truth. But then, autopsies cost money, with nary a chance of making money. Not even a 1 in 1.09 quintillion chance. (More: letter to the editor Aug. 16).

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