An Ohio family’s lawsuit against University of Michigan Health System and Yale University is going forward more than two decades after genetic tests for two young sisters were mixed up.
In 1999, Michael Lonsway and his wife, Susan, took their daughters, Cameryn, age 3 at the time, and Delaney, age 5, to UM Health for genetic testing as Michael’s family had a history of skin cancer. The Lonsways wanted to know whether the girls had a genetic mutation that put them at a higher risk for melanoma.
The tests were performed at Yale University, and the Lonsways were told that Cameryn did have the mutation, increasing her risk of developing skin cancer by 60% to 80%. Yale said Delaney did not have the mutation. The Lonsways took strict protective measures to keep Cameryn out of the sun afterward.
The Lonsways learn the truth years later
In 2016, Delaney, now 22 years old, developed skin cancer, and the family later learned that Yale had switched their girls’ genetic test results, and that the family had been protecting the wrong daughter for all those years.
To add insult to injury, the family discovered that Yale notified UM in 2014 that those genetic tests were inaccurate, but UM didn’t pass along the information to the family. Yale had suggested that the girls be retested at that time, but the lawsuit says UM genetics counselor Dr. Jessica Everett never acted on the new information.
After Delaney’s cancer diagnosis, Susan Lonsway called Everett, who assured her that the girls’ test results had not been mixed up. Everett then suggested that the girls be retested. However, Lonsway said Everett became difficult to reach after that conversation.
Everett later testified that she intended to reach out to the family but couldn’t explain why that never happened. She admitted that her mistake breached the standard of care. The Lonsways believe UM would have never revealed the error if Susan hadn’t called Yale in 2016 when she was informed.
Appeals court allows the case to proceed
Delaney Lonsway noticed two moles in March 2016, but due to the genetic tests, neither she nor her doctor considered them to be dangerous. They weren’t removed and biopsied until two months later, and both were positive for melanoma.
The family filed two lawsuits in 2018 against UM and Yale, which eventually were consolidated in Washtenaw County Circuit Court. The court dismissed them in 2019, claiming the family filed the lawsuits after the statute of limitations had expired for a medical malpractice claim.
But on Feb. 12, the Michigan Court of Appeals struck down the lower court’s ruling, saying the effective start-date for filing a lawsuit was Aug. 16, 2017, when the family learned that UM was made aware of the faulty tests by Yale but did nothing to inform the family. The appeals court ruled the case can continue.