Doctor cleared of malpractice

A jury found Wednesday that an Augusta surgeon wasn't negligent in treating a woman who later died of breast cancer.

At the end of a two-week trial in Richmond County State Court, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Dr. Lynn Tucker, a defendant in a medical malpractice lawsuit filed by Ernest Gough.

Mr. Gough is the widower of Christine Gough, who died May 13, 2004. The mother of three was 34 years old.

Dr. Frank Carter was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. He settled for an undisclosed amount just before the trial began.

In closing arguments Wednesday, Dr. Tucker's attorney Carlton Joyce told the jury that after an initial office visit Mrs. Gough was supposed to come back in a month but she didn't. She didn't return until late 2003, when Dr. Tucker immediately began treatment.

Continuing the defense argument, attorney Frank Seiler told the jury that as a nurse, Mrs. Gough should have known that her symptoms and family history were important information that Dr. Tucker needed. But Mrs. Gough didn't tell the doctor, Mr. Seiler said.

Maybe Mrs. Gough didn't want to hear a diagnosis of cancer or undergo treatment because she was pregnant in 2002, Mr. Seiler said.

The plaintiff's attorney David Sumner countered to the jury that Mrs. Gough thought the doctor's explanation that her symptoms could be caused by blocked ducts was correct and reasonable.

If Dr. Tucker had done a biopsy as the radiologist recommended, the cancer would have been diagnosed a year earlier, Mr. Sumner argued.

Dr. Tucker's attorneys argued she might have decided a biopsy was warranted if Mrs. Gough had returned to the doctor's office sooner.

Mr. Joyce told the jury it couldn't base its decision on hindsight. Sometimes things don't turn out the way a doctor and patient hope, he said.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.