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Julie Kirschbaum

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Julie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995. Had her condition been properly diagnosed from a mammogram two years earlier, her treatment would have been far less excruciating and her prognosis vastly improved. "My mother had been through several biopsies for breast lumps and they were all benign," Julie said. "I thought, 'No problem, it's not going to be cancerous.' But they called the next afternoon and said that it was indeed cancer."

Julie underwent surgery to remove a section of her breast and lymph nodes a month after her diagnosis. Of the 22 lymph nodes her surgeon removed, 21 contained cancer cells. Julie's breast cancer was far more advanced than first thought. "I went into a state of disbelief," Julie said. "I thought I could handle surgery and the radiation, but all of a sudden I was told the cancer wasn't contained and might have spread throughout my body."

Meanwhile, when Julie's husband, Ted, transported her medical records from one physician's office to another, he found an old report from Julie's previous mammogram in October 1992. A note on the report stated that calcifications in Julie's right breast had increased since 1988 and recommended she have another mammogram in a year. But Julie had been told in 1992 that her mammogram was normal, and so she did not return to the imaging center until 1995 for another routine screening.

Soon after her surgery, Julie learned that the 1992 mammogram revealed not only calcifications, but evidence of cancer not diagnosed at the time. Left untreated for more than two years, the cancer had spread.

"Ted was absolutely furious, I crawled into my bed and slept for a week," Julie said. "If somebody had told me there was anything wrong on the 1992 mammogram, I would have been very prudent about seeking further treatment."

Julie's surgeon encouraged her to sue the imaging center and the radiologist who had misdiagnosed her condition. But first, Julie decided to put her energy into finding the best follow-up treatment she could. Julie and Ted interviewed several oncologists before selecting a cutting-edge chemotherapy program at the University of Washington. There, Julie underwent six months of weekly chemotherapy and a mastectomy.

"I was reading statistics about a 25 percent survival rate over five years for people in my situation, compared to a 95 percent survival rate had the cancer been diagnosed when it should have been," she said. "That's a huge difference."

Julie was reluctant to take legal action for her misdiagnosed condition, but she had a good friend and neighbor who was a plaintiff attorney -- Nic Corning -- so she told him her story. "Julie was concerned that people would consider her case to be frivolous, but it deserved to be heard," Corning said. "This is a classic example of how the backers of so-called tort reform have eroded the public's trust in the civil justice system with false and misleading information." Corning took her case and associated with another attorney experienced in breast cancer malpractice suits.

Pretrial discovery disclosed that the radiologist who had misinterpreted Julie's 1992 films had completed only one outdated mammography course in the mid 1970s. The imaging center's own promotional literature claimed that its radiologists specialized in breast diagnosis, but Julie's radiologist admitted that only one-third of his practice involved mammography.

Julie's case was settled in August of 1997. Julie was proud to have held the responsible health care providers accountable for the harm they caused and the settlement enabled her to acquire some comfort and helped provide for her family, but this brave and courageous woman passed away from breast cancer in December 2000. Julie leaves behind her husband Ted and her children Chris and Beth.

Profile by Susan Woodward; photo by Brian DalBalcon, A Cause of Action, Washington Families Search for Justice; 1997; Washington State Trial Lawyers Association.

Dan Lampe

Nic with Dan and former Washington state Governor Gary Locke
Nic, Dan Lampe and former Washington state Governor Gary Locke

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Dan's life was violently altered when two drunk drivers decided to race each other across Bremerton's Warren Avenue Bridge. Dan was driving home from a friend's birthday party in 1976 when one of the drivers clipped the rear end of Dan's 1974 Ford Pinto station wagon, causing the gas tank to rupture. Dan was drenched in gasoline. Sparks from one of the cars ignited the fuel and Dan's car burst into flames. He was unable to escape because his car doors were jammed shut. Ninety seconds passed before one brave man ripped open the driver's door and reached into the flames to pull Dan from the wreckage.

Dan had suffered the deepest of burns to nearly half his body, particularly his face and hands. Doctors at Harborview Medical Center's Burn Unit told his family that he would not survive. But, miraculously, Dan did live through the horrible experience. He endured more than 200 painful plastic surgeries over a fifteen year period.

Dan retained Nic Corning who filed a lawsuit against Ford Motor Company helped seal the Pinto's worldwide reputation as a firetrap. Nic researched other Pinto explosion cases and teamed up with attorneys throughout the United States to uncover the smoking gun - in this case it was an internal Ford Motor Company document admitting the corporation's "cost-benefit analysis" which concluded that it would be more profitable to defend lawsuits for the deaths and injuries of Pinto occupants than to change its design. Nic discovered that the Pinto gas tanks were built into the middle of the crush zone, the section of a car body designed to bear the brunt force of a collision. Ford knew all about this hazardous construction. But Ford decided it would be cheaper to pay compensation to accident victims than to replace a part at a cost of $11 per vehicle. Ford also estimated that Pinto fires would kill an estimated 180 people and seriously injure 180 more.

After five years of litigation, Dan's case settled on his birthday in June, 1980. Dan later married Lori, a burn unit nurse, who had fallen in love with the man behind the scars. The couple has a daughter and a son.

Unable to return to his job as a machinist for a naval shipyard, Dan credited Nic with helping him survive monetarily on the settlement Nic reached with the Ford Motor Company. He also credited Nic with helping to correct Ford Motor Company's admitted failures and to take the Pinto off the market.

Dan passed away in 2005, surrounded by his family and friends. Prior to his death he was an outspoken advocate for injured victims. He frequently spoke out against corporate wrongdoers and addressed groups on the consequences of drunk driving. He shared his story with reporters and state lawmakers, testifying in legislative hearings to support the civil rights of individuals, like him, who are injured by the negligent acts of others. "Dan was very courageous for what he did to restore his own life and for speaking out to protect the civil justice system," says attorney Nic Corning. "We all ought to be grateful that Ford Pintos are off the market; it's because Dan Lampe fought a giant."

Dan was honored by the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association - WSTLA - (now known as Washington Association for Justice) for his legislative efforts to protect other potential injury victims. The plaque he received from WSTLA recognized him for his courage and commitment to preserve the civil rights of Washington state citizens.