Billerica Man’s Estate Wins $4.2M Medical Malpractice Suit
BILLERICA -- Billerica resident Neil Senna died of kidney cancer on New Year’s Eve 2014, about 3 1/2 years after his initial diagnosis.
Had the diagnosis come sooner -- with the help of Senna’s Billerica-based primary-care physician -- the 54-year-old could have been treated at an earlier stage, when the illness was more curable.
That was the determination made by a recent Lowell Superior Court jury in finding Dr. Ashok Joshi of Billerica Medical and Health Center negligent in Senna’s care and treatment after reportedly failing to notify Senna of a symptom that could have indicated the cancer’s presence in June 2009.
The jury found that the negligence played a “substantial contributing factor” in the Billerica resident’s death, according to court documents.
The jury awarded $4.2 million to Senna’s estate and to his children -- including $1.2 million for suffering, and both children receiving $1.5 million, which includes compensation for present and future losses.
“When he mentioned that he had cancer, just that alone, we were in shock,” said Senna’s daughter, Jennifer Meyers, 32, of Nashua, N.H. “And then to learn that he had it two years prior to even finding out...”
The shock turned to anger, Meyers said, particularly after watching her father grow ill.
The jury’s determination came after a pair of doctors testified that Joshi complied with the standard of care in Senna’s treatment and there was insufficient evidence to warrant accusations of negligence.
“I address all abnormalities found during evaluation with the patients as the standard of care requires,” Joshi stated by email last month, a week after the conclusion of the medical-malpractice trial.
Senna was sent to a specialist after a standard urinalysis done during a physical by Saints Health Services of North Andover in May 2011 uncovered the presence of blood in his urine.
The cause of blood in the urine -- hematuria -- is often harmless, but can also indicate a serious disorder that typically leads to further evaluation, as a specialist testified at trial on Senna’s behalf.
As it was established after imaging of Senna’s kidneys by Merrimack Urology Associates in July 2011, the blood in the urine was a sign of the cancer’s presence.
Then 51, Senna said that was the first time he had been diagnosed with hematuria. However, as Adam Satin, a Boston attorney with the medical-malpractice firm Lubin & Meyer, said, the diagnosis was nothing new.
According to Satin, when Saints Health Services of North Andover found blood in Senna’s urine, they pursued Senna’s records kept by Joshi -- Senna’s prior primary-care physician.
The records showed that Joshi found the presence of blood during a urinalysis in June 2009, according to court documents.
According to court documents, in June 2009, as part of an initial evaluation of hypertension, Joshi carried out a urine analysis that suggested the presence of red blood cells. The following month, another dipstick analysis was performed and was negative for hematuria.
Court documents further state that Dr. Graeme Steele, a urologist, would testify on Joshi’s behalf that the doctor “complied with the standard of care because in the absence of hematuria, a hematuria workup is not recommended.”
The expert disclosure documents further reference Senna’s past medical history, which, aside from hypertension, included sciatica, obesity and smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
Though Joshi stated in his email that he addresses abnormalities as the standard of care requires, expert testimony from a medical witness asserted that cancer like this can bleed intermittently.
“It should have been (Senna’s) lucky day” when the blood was found during the June 2009 test, “and he should have been sent to a specialist,” Satin said.
By the time a mass was discovered in Senna’s kidney during 2011, the cancer had grown to a significant size and had spread.
A carpenter who ran Neil Senna Carpentry for a period of time, Senna loved to cook, watch NASCAR, ride motorcycles and be outdoors. He was a big family man, according to Meyers.
“Watching my dad with my daughter -- it was priceless,” Meyers said. “Watching him teach her the things he taught me when I was a child. It’s stuff like that that you miss. And the things that I know he is going to miss going forward -- I think that’s the hardest part.”
In addition to the monetary penalty, the jury’s findings will be reported to the Board of Registration in Medicine, Satin said.
In his email, Joshi called it unfortunate that Senna developed cancer and died.
“I am saddened by this outcome,” he said. “I offer condolences to the family for their loss.
“My practice continues to take care of thousands of patients in the Greater Lowell area for over 23 years and we are committed to providing the best of health care to all our patients at all times,” he concluded.
Repeated attempts to reach Joshi’s attorney, David Hilton of Morrison Mahoney LLP in Boston, went unanswered.
Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis.