In a medical negligence case that spilled over into a products liability case, we demonstrated that a test, then commonly used by doctors to determine whether a patient is allergic to insect stings, had an unacceptable rate of false negatives. The test regularly came back negative on people who were actually allergic and at risk for life-threatening anaphylactic reactions from insect stings.
In Topham v. Shapiro, we represented a man severely injured from a toxic reaction to a yellow jacket sting. Mr. Topham’s doctor had told him he was not allergic to yellow jackets. His doctor reached this conclusion after she administered a commonly used skin test designed to test for insect sting allergy. The doctor, and most of the medical profession, considered the test to be nearly 100% effective in identifying patients who were allergic. The test came back negative. In reality, Mr. Topham was dangerously allergic to yellow jacket stings and, we argued, should have been offered venom immunotherapy treatment as a prophylaxis against an anaphylactic reaction should he be stung again.
About one year after the test clearing him, he was stung again and went into severe anaphylactic shock. We sued the manufacturer of the skin test. The evidence we produced at trial in King County Superior Court not only won the case, but fairly persuasively alerted allergists they can no longer rely on skin tests in diagnosing Hymenoptera (insect) allergy. Our lawsuit’s contribution was acknowledged in the editorial of the recent JOURNAL OF ALLERGY AND CLINICAL IMMUNOLOGY by one of the nation’s leading allergists. People who are at risk for life-threatening anaphylactic reactions and death from insect stings can now receive protective immunotherapy they would have been denied in the past had doctors continued to rely on the information given by this inadequate skin test.