Can You Sue a Doctor for Failure to Diagnose?
It’s every patient’s worst nightmare to have a disease diagnosed too late. But for many, it’s reality. Take, for instance, a systemic review conducted by Johns Hopkins University which utilized 31 different studies describing 5,863 autopsies to determine how often misdiagnosis led to a patient’s death. Of those autopsies, 28% showed evidence of misdiagnosis that could have directly contributed to the patient’s death (most common misdiagnoses were pulmonary embolism, aspergillus infection, heart attack, and artery blockages).
When you visit your doctor for an illness, you expect to receive an accurate diagnosis of your symptoms, but for many, it’s simply not the case. So what happens if your doctor fails to accurately diagnose your condition? Can you sue them for a wrong diagnosis or failure to diagnose?
Proving Failure to Diagnose and Wrong Diagnosis
In some instances, a doctor’s wrong diagnosis or failure to diagnose results in medical malpractice. For medical malpractice to occur, there must be proof that the doctor acted negligently, resulting in injury to the patient. Medical malpractice is complex to prove, and most doctors have excellent lawyers defending their case, so it’s crucial for the plaintiff to prove three things:
- There was a doctor-patient relationship
- The doctor’s error was a result of negligence
- The patient suffered injury as a result of the negligence
Additionally, the plaintiff’s attorney must prove that any other doctor from a similar medical field would have been able to correctly diagnose the patient’s illness and that the misdiagnosis/failure to diagnose caused injury to the point that it actively worsened the patient’s condition.
Some of the Most Common Misdiagnoses
While misdiagnosis can happen with any illness, a few medical conditions are more likely to be misdiagnosed or undiagnosed.
While many types of cancer are detectable in the early stages, there are certain cancers, such as breast cancer which are less likely to be accurately diagnosed (mainly due to doctors ignoring women’s symptoms of pain and relying too heavily on mammogram results). However, a delayed cancer diagnosis can equate to a lower likelihood of survival and more painful or invasive treatment options.
Aneurysms are caused when a bulge forms in the weakest part of a blood vessel, causing the vessel to burst and leading to internal bleeding, clots, or stroke. Aneurysms are most dangerous when formed in the arteries of the chest and brain. They are exceptionally dangerous and often fatal if misdiagnosed or undiagnosed.
Heart Attack and Blood Clots-
Heart attacks and blood clots are extremely common conditions that have harrowing consequences if not correctly diagnosed. Blood clots can often lead to conditions such as stroke or heart attack when left untreated, which is why it’s crucial for doctors to properly diagnose patients, perform EKGs when necessary, and administer clot-dissolving medications upon discovery of a clot.
Hospital-acquired infections (HAI) are less talked about but are among the biggest threats to patients recovering from surgery or awaiting treatment. It’s predicted that about 1 of every 10 patients in a hospital will contract some type of HAI, with many of these infections originating from bacteria, fungi, and viruses. While not always the case, HAIs can be caused by unsterile surfaces, improper decontamination precautions, and medical negligence. Many of these infections can lead to sepsis or organ damage if left undiagnosed.
What You Should Do If You’ve Been Misdiagnosed
If you suspect that medical negligence is behind your missed or delayed diagnosis, the first step you can take is to contact a medical malpractice lawyer to determine the viability of your case. Once a lawyer has evaluated your situation and decides to proceed with your case, they will begin to collect enough evidence to file a claim with the court.
After your suit is filed, they will then conduct the following:
Discovery– A phase in which both the plaintiff and the defendant gather and request information related to the case.
Testimony From Expert Witnesses– During this phase, impartial medical experts will be called to testify over whether or not a breach of the standard duty of care occurred.
Settlement– If the evidence suggests a breach of care occurred, the defense will typically try to negotiate a sum to be paid to the victim outside of court. If the plaintiff refuses to settle, the case will proceed to a trial where a judge or jury determines the verdict.
While settlement amounts may vary, the vast majority of cases will end in settlement. Factors that determine your final settlement amount can include things such as:
- The extent of your medical injury
- Costs of ongoing/future medical care
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- The severity of the negligence
- State caps on medical malpractice
Unfortunately, delayed diagnosis, failure to diagnose, and misdiagnosis are all too common in the medical world. For many patients, this results in delayed treatment, worsening health, more severe treatment options, and in the worst-case scenario, death.
If you suspect that your health provider’s medical negligence has led to your misdiagnosis, it’s important to prevent it from happening to anyone else and to receive financial reimbursement for your woes. Contacting a skilled medical malpractice attorney is the first step you should take in your pursuit of justice. Because medical malpractice cases are exceptionally complex, it’s necessary to have a legal professional by your side.