Government cites deadline, wins suit over Army vet's tumor

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DETROIT (AP) — A Michigan family suing the government over the untimely diagnosis of an Army veteran's fatal brain tumor has been defeated by the clock.

U.S. District Judge Paul Borman ruled in favor of the government and dismissed a lawsuit, saying Jeffrey Spillers' estate missed a two-year deadline by a few months.

Spillers "knew enough regarding his care, or lack thereof, to put him on inquiry notice of a possible legal claim," Borman said Monday.

Spillers, 42, was a decorated combat veteran who served in Iraq in the early 1990s during Operation Desert Storm. In 2008, he went to a Pontiac clinic run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, complaining of headaches, seizures, facial droop and fatigue.

An MRI was recommended but not performed, despite many follow-up visits to other VA sites. Finally, in August 2009, as Spillers' health deteriorated, a test revealed the brain tumor. The Fenton man, who had a 12-year-old son, died four months later.

A timely diagnosis would not have prevented Spillers' death but would have reduced his pain and suffering, said Dr. Jay Kaner, who looked at his medical records.

The VA offered a financial settlement that was rejected, clearing the way for a lawsuit. But the government then fought the case by arguing that Spillers' estate couldn't sue because it had failed to file the earlier claim against the VA within two years — a crucial point.

The judge agreed, saying the deadline was two years from diagnosis of the tumor, not Spillers' death.

A lawyer for the estate said it took months after Spillers' death to unravel what had happened during his many visits to the VA.

"There is no evidence that would have required the average person to pursue this inquiry prior to Mr. Spillers' death," attorney James Pelland said.


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