Have you or has your loved one been hurt by a missed diagnosis?
You can receive the best medical care in the world, but it’s not going to help you if you’re treating the wrong thing. Whether your doctor missed the correct diagnosis entirely, diagnosed you with the wrong ailment, or delayed a proper diagnosis, you may have suffered unnecessarily.
Most Americans will be misdiagnosed or suffer a delayed diagnosis at least once in their lives—though not everyone will experience tragic consequences as a result of that misdiagnosis.
While errors related to misdiagnosis are actually the largest source of medical malpractice claims, representing 33 percent of claims, they’re also some of the hardest medical malpractice cases to prove. If you’re dealing with the repercussions of a doctor’s failure to diagnose, you need qualified legal help.
Facts About Missed Diagnoses
Diagnostic failures include three common scenarios: failure to detect a medical condition, delay in diagnosing a medical condition, or diagnosis with a condition that you don’t actually have. In an emergency room setting, doctors often misdiagnose heart attacks, strokes, and meningitis. Women, for example, present very different symptoms during a heart attack than men do—and many doctors don’t ask the right questions or order the right tests when confronted with what appear to be low-grade symptoms. Cancer is also frequently misdiagnosed, with devastating consequences.
Appendicitis is notoriously difficult to diagnose in children; the rate of misdiagnosis is between 28 and 57 percent in children between the ages of two and 12 and nearly 100 percent in children younger than two.
Missed Diagnosis Lawsuits
To establish a legal claim for a mistaken or missed diagnosis, you need to prove several facts.
First, you must show that you were in a patient-doctor relationship with the doctor who missed your diagnosis. Obviously, if you’re chatting with a doctor at a cocktail party and you mention some troubling symptoms, that doctor is not under an obligation to correctly diagnose you. You must actually be under a doctor’s care to hold him or her responsible for failing to correctly diagnose a medical condition.
Second, you must show that the misdiagnosis was negligent. In other words, the doctor’s mistake must have violated a standard of acceptable medical care, demonstrating that the doctor failed to act as a reasonably skillful and competent doctor would have. It may be that the doctor didn’t ask you the right questions about family history, medication use, symptoms, or complications. Or perhaps the doctor asked but didn’t listen to those answers that conflicted with the assumptions that the doctor had already made about your condition. Perhaps the doctor ordered the wrong diagnostic tests or misinterpreted the results of those tests. In short, there are a lot of ways to misdiagnose an illness.
According to a recent study, more than 20 percent of patients who obtained a second opinion from a specialist learned that they had been misdiagnosed by their primary care physician.
Finally, you must demonstrate that you’ve suffered damages as a result of the diagnostic mistake. You may have suffered by receiving an alarming false diagnosis; if so, you may have also been injured by receiving treatment that you didn’t need. On the other hand, if the doctor failed to make a correct diagnosis, you may have been harmed by the delay or denial of necessary medical care. In cases of cancer misdiagnosis, for example, a patient’s condition, left untreated, can rapidly deteriorate to the point where treatment is no longer effective. In cases like these, missed diagnoses are a virtual death sentence—even where timely diagnosis and treatment could have been entirely effective.
This last element, causation, can be the most challenging point for a patient to prove. In one sense, it’s impossible to predict the future. Doctors facing these accusations may argue that you simply can’t know what would have happened with prompt medical care. This is where the testimony of expert witnesses—who are also doctors—can help to establish both a legal claim and the damages that you may be entitled to.
Cases of Missed Diagnosis
Stephanie Tesorioro “did everything right”: she immediately contacted her doctor when she found a suspicious lump during her breast self-exam. Unfortunately, her doctor didn’t do as well; he told her she didn’t have cancer—she just had a clogged milk duct. Sixteen months later, noting that the lump had grown, Stephanie returned to the doctor—where she was finally diagnosed with breast cancer. By then, though, her cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, and from there, to her bloodstream and her bones. The jury in her case awarded her $15 million for the pain and suffering she endured.
TaRia Pulliam’s story is remarkably similar: the also felt a lump in her breast and asked her doctors to investigate. Although her first ultrasound showed that the mass was suspicious, both the laboratory specialist and the pathologist misread her biopsy results, causing her surgeon to tell her that she didn’t have cancer. Eight months later, she was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, which spread to her spine, lungs, liver, and beyond. She ultimately settled her case for $3.5 million, which offers some level of protection for the young children she may not be able to look after.
PCVA Can Help
If you’ve suffered due to a missed or delayed diagnosis, don’t try to handle it by yourself. The attorneys at PCVA understand what it takes to establish a claim for medical malpractice and understand the pain caused by misdiagnosis. We are here to help you seek justice.