A medical misdiagnosis can lead to serious injury, permanent damage, and death. When a patient reports symptoms that are not properly evaluated, the patient may be left with an undiagnosed condition that goes untreated. Without treatment, the patient’s condition could worsen or the patient could suffer serious harm.
A misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, or failure to diagnose the patient’s condition could be the basis for a medical malpractice lawsuit. Medical malpractice is the failure of a doctor or healthcare provider to provide the standard of care that causes injury and results in damage. A medical malpractice lawsuit allows injury victims to seek compensation for their losses. If you suffered an injury because of a misdiagnosis, you may be able to sue the doctor or hospital for negligent care.
Patients have to be able to rely on the training, experience, and education of medical professionals. When a doctor makes a diagnosis, it is based on the combination of their experience and training and doctors should be held to that standard of care. Without trust in the doctor’s ability to properly evaluate and diagnose health conditions, the doctor-patient relationship can suffer.
According to a study published in the Journal of Patient Safety, an estimated 400,000 people die every year in the U.S. because of medical errors. Another study, from Johns Hopkins researchers, found medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. However, the actual number of deaths and injuries caused by medical malpractice could be higher. Many injuries or deaths are not reported as caused by medical mistakes.
Misdiagnosis is one of the most common causes of medical errors. Doctors have a serious responsibility, to use their training, diagnostic testing, and experience to properly evaluate a patient’s complaints, physical symptoms, and other signs to identify the cause of their condition. If a doctor is not sure what the problem is, they should use testing, imaging, and other diagnostic tools to determine the problem. If a doctor is still unsure, they should contact other specialists for another consultation.
In many cases, a misdiagnosis is caused by simple errors, including rushing through an exam, not listening to the patient, or failing to document their findings. These errors have serious consequences for patients and their families. Common diagnostic errors can include:
- Failure to diagnose
- Delayed diagnosis
Failure to Diagnose a Medical Condition or Disease
Failure to diagnose a medical condition or disease generally involves failing to notice signs or symptoms of a condition, failing to connect the symptoms to the medical condition, or failure to follow up treatment to properly diagnose the patient. Without a diagnosis of any condition, the patient may suspect their condition is minor or will resolve on its own. Even if the patient returns with increased concern, the same doctor may send them away or discharge them from the hospital, relying on their own prior failed diagnosis.
The standard of care requires a doctor to act as a reasonable doctor would in similar circumstances, given their training, experience, practice area, and other factors. If the doctor failed to take the standard precautions, failed to order the proper tests, or misinterpreted the information, it can be a failure to diagnose the patient. Failure to diagnose a medical condition could lead to increased injury, unnecessary pain and suffering, or allow the condition to develop into a more serious or fatal disease. Some of the most common failure to diagnose areas include:
- Cancer issues
- Neurological-related conditions
- Heart conditions
- Urological issues
- Response to surgery complications
Misdiagnosis of the Wrong Condition
Misdiagnosis of the wrong condition can be just as harmful, or even more harmful, than a failed diagnosis. Like a failed diagnosis, a misdiagnosis could leave the serious condition untreated. The patient may continue to suffer, with no improvement, allowing the condition to get worse. The patient may also be less likely to seek out treatment when the prior treatment or prescription did not do anything to help their complaints.
A misdiagnosis could do additional harm by treating someone for a condition they never had. For example, if a doctor misreads an imaging study showing a serious infection in the leg, the doctor may diagnose the patient with a left-leg infection when the real infection is in the right leg. After a consultation with the patient, the doctor schedules a left-leg amputation below-the-knee.
After the amputation, the tissue is sent to the lab for testing and no infection is identified. A misdiagnosis by confusing the limbs causes the patient to suffer an unnecessary amputation while the actual condition was left untreated.
In a delayed diagnosis, the patient’s condition is eventually figured out. It could even be diagnosed by the same doctor who missed it before. If there are signs, symptoms, or other indications that a doctor missed or failed to recognize. It may be a failure to diagnose. If the doctor or another provider later recognizes the disease, illness, or condition, it is a delayed diagnosis. When a doctor is responsible for delayed diagnosis of the patient and the delay causes an injury that results in damage, the doctor may be liable for medical malpractice.
A delayed diagnosis can be just as damaging as a misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose the patient. Time is of the essence in a number of medical treatments. Delayed diagnosis of cancer that goes on for weeks or months could allow the cancer to metastasize and grow. However, delayed diagnosis of a problem in the oxygen supply to a baby during pregnancy may only take a minute before it can cause permanent brain injury, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), or death.
Most Common Cancer Misdiagnosis
According to the National Cancer Institute, there are 13 common cancer types with an annual incidence of 40,000 cases or more each year in the United States. Cancers that are diagnosed with the most frequency, excluding nonmelanoma skin cancers, include:
- Bladder Cancer
- Breast Cancer
- Colon and Rectal Cancer
- Endometrial Cancer
- Kidney Cancer
- Liver Cancer
- Lung Cancer
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
- Pancreatic Cancer
- Prostate Cancer
- Thyroid Cancer
Breast cancer has the highest rate of new cases in the U.S., with an estimated 280,000 new diagnoses each year. There are more than 248,000 estimated diagnoses of prostate cancer and 235,000 lung cancer diagnoses. However, lung cancer has a higher fatality rate, with estimated deaths from lung cancer are more than 130,000 in 2021.
With cancer treatment, time can be of the essence. When cancer develops, it can continue to grow or spread (metastasize). The difference in weeks or months for a cancer diagnosis can mean the difference between life or death. Early detection of cancer may have more treatment options and a much higher rate of recovery. When a doctor makes a mistake in a cancer diagnosis and fails to identify the indications until much later, it can be fatal for the patient.
In the early stages, cancer may not show any signs in the patient. Cancer can present in different ways in different patients. Some signs and symptoms that may indicate possible cancer or other serious health conditions may include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Changes in the skin
- Unusual bleeding
- Persistent headaches
- Lump or mass under the skin
- Chronic pain
- Sores that do not heal
Medical Misdiagnosis Injury
A misdiagnosis can have severe consequences. In general, an injury caused by a misdiagnosis can delay treatment of the actual condition, leave a serious medical condition to go totally untreated, or involve unnecessary treatment for the wrong conditions. Untreated conditions or delays could leave an injury to progress without intervention. This could cause injury or make injuries worse, including:
- Tissue damage
- Organ damage
- Skin damage
- Brain damage
- Cancer spreading
- Loss of a limb
- Unnecessary suffering
- Scarring or disfigurement
- Emotional harm
For example, if a patient reports symptoms that are consistent with an infection, diagnostic tests and lab tests could help the doctor diagnose the infection, and treat the infection with medication. However, if the doctor did not request the proper testing, the infection could spread, develop into sepsis, cause organ damage, and lead to fatal septic shock.
Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Damages
In a medical misdiagnosis lawsuit, the injury victim seeks financial damages to compensate them for their losses. No amount of money may be able to justify the pain, physical injury, or disfigurement but compensatory damages seek to put the victim into a similar position they would have been but for the misdiagnosis. In a medical malpractice lawsuit, damages can include both economic and noneconomic losses. Economic damages can include:
- Hospital bills
- Medical care
- Future medical care
- Loss of wages
- Loss of earning potential
The injury victim may also be able to claim non-economic damages. Non-economic damages do not always have a set value but can be determined by the jury. For example, the victim may seek compensation because of scarring, disfigurement, or a loss of a limb. Because of the doctor’s error, the victim may not have the same appearance, suffer chronic pain, or be limited from doing the things they used to do before the misdiagnosis. Noneconomic damages can include:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment in life
- Loss of consortium
Is It Too Late To Sue for Misdiagnosis?
Patients can be heartbroken to learn that even though a doctor was responsible for their injuries, it may be too late to file a lawsuit for damages. States have “statutes of limitations,” which are time limits for certain causes of action. There may be a limited time to file a medical malpractice or personal injury claim after the injury or accident occurred.
It may seem unjust and unfair but filing a claim even one day late could mean your claim is dismissed. The time limit depends on the state jurisdiction and several other factors. This is why it is important to reach out for help as soon as you suspect a possible medical error.
States have a set number of years to file a personal injury claim. For example, in Pennsylvania, most medical malpractice claims have to be filed within 2 years from the date of the negligent action or injury. In Maryland, a medical malpractice action must be commenced within five years from the date of the injury, or three years from the date the injury was discovered.
Depending on the state, there may be a number of exceptions available that can extend the time limit, including:
- Tolling for minors
- Delayed discovery rule
- Fraud on the part of the doctor
Most states allow additional time when the injury victim was a minor at the time of the injury. Depending on the state, the statute of limitations may not start to run until the minor turns 18. Other states only allow extra time for young children injured by medical malpractice. Talk to a medical misdiagnosis lawyer about your case to make sure your claim is not filed too late.
In some states, the discovery rule will allow extra time to file a misdiagnosis claim. Under the discovery rule, there may be extra time when the injury victim did not find out about the injury or accident until later. For example, after a surgery, the surgeon left a piece of surgical sponge behind in the patient’s body. The patient recovered but complained of an increase in pain in the abdomen. Despite a number of treatments, the pain never got better and actually got worse. Years later, the left-behind object was discovered as the source of the pain. Under the discovery rule, the victim may still be able to sue the doctor for malpractice.
Medical Misdiagnosis Lawyers
In a misdiagnosis case, you may have suffered pain, injury, or damage through no fault of your own. When a doctor or health care facility is responsible for the misdiagnosis, you deserve to be compensated for your losses. This is where hiring a medical malpractice attorney and filing a medical malpractice can help you recover. Experienced trial attorneys with a record of success can explain your legal options and help you recover the maximum compensation available. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.