Inaccurate Diagnosis — what to do?

Several months ago, a friend of mine went to the doctor, and he happened to be wearing shorts, and the doctor noticed a spot on his leg which he thought looked suspicious. He took a biopsy, sent it off to the lab, and it was diagnosed as being a very rare form of cancer. They quickly removed a chunk from his leg, hoping they had gotten the entire spot that may have been cancerous, so they didn’t have to do anything more drastic (like amputatation or chemotherapy). Further tests revealed my friend was cancer-free. Excellent, right?

Problem is, the original diagnosis was wrong — the spot was not cancerous. The lab screwed up. My friend now has $15,000 in medical bills that he can’t pay because of the lab screw-up. The lab that screwed up has actually sent it to collections already — even though their screw-up was the cause of them not having the money to pay for everything that happened– in addition to sending them through several weeks of fear (because of their screw-up), and the discomfort of the (minor) operation (because of their screw-up), and life-long scarring of this young man’s leg (because of their screw-up). The man’s wife recently lost both her mother and one of her uncles to cancer, so when she heard that her thirty-something husband was diagnosed with cancer (did I mention the lab screwed up?), she immediately went into worst-case scenario mode and thought she’d likely be a widow at 35.

They’ve contacted a lawyer, and there’s not enough money in it for the lawyer to even take the case, so what can they do? If his life had been materially altered (he’d had his leg amputated, or the surgery took out so much of his leg that it made him hobble, or he ended up dead somehow), then a greedy lawyer would take it for a nice percentage of a million-dollar lawsuit. Fifteen grand don’t cut it, though, apparently.

It was an innocent human error — the lab didn’t misdiagnose maliciously. The doctor’s recommendations based on what he thought was accurate was a legitimate course of action, so they’re not mad at him. They’re not mad at anybody, but they just don’t think they ought to have to pay so much money when the lab (that is now trying to collect several thousand dollars) screwed up.

While they’re thrilled that he’s not dying of cancer, and never even had cancer to begin with, the reality is that they’ve got all these medical bills (due to the rarity of the falsely diagnosed cancer, multiple tests were required, including the State Lab, so they owe several different people money). Any suggestions? My first thought is to tell them to take their bills and shove ’em where the sun don’t shine, and forward all the other medical bills to them too. But I don’t think that would actually help. I’m hoping at least one of my readers has a suggestion that can help my friends.

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