A Newport News, Va., jury has awarded $25 million — reportedly the largest-ever medical malpractice verdict in the state — to a nuclear engineer who claimed that his family doctor and a neurologist failed to diagnose cancer in a sinus cavity. But the massive victory is nowhere near as significant as it might seem at first. Plaintiff Phillip N. Lucy will collect only a fraction of the jury’s award, even if its finding of liability is upheld on appeal, because Virginia caps all medical malpractice damages at $1 million.

Lucy may challenge the constitutionality of the cap, said his attorney, John M. Flora, of Norfolk, Va.’s Harlan & Flora P.C. But Flora was not optimistic about the plaintiff’s chances. In January 1999, Flora noted, the Virginia Supreme Court reaffirmed the cap, rejecting a challenge brought by plaintiffs in a medical malpractice/wrongful-death lawsuit. Lucy sued his family doctor, Fred T. Givens, Givens’ professional corporation, neurologist Thomas J. Reagan, and Reagan’s professional corporation, charging that a series of errors had led to a delayed diagnosis of cancer. Lucy initially went to Givens in early 1993, complaining of nosebleeds in his left nostril and “an unusual sensation” in the corner of his nose, said Flora. Givens diagnosed high blood pressure and prescribed medication, he said. After these symptoms continued, an X-ray found nothing wrong. By October 1993, the unusual sensation had given way to numbness and burning.

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