Understanding Your Legal Rights: Can You Sue a Doctor for a Misdiagnosis?

A state court jury awarded a man who lost a leg due to a medical misdiagnosis $20 million in damages. The victim, Steven Luppold, alleged that the Lowell General Hospital twice misdiagnosed his throbbing knee as sciatica. 

When Luppold asked for an examination from his primary care provider, CT scans showed his leg was dying. This diagnostic error led to the necessary amputation of his left leg. Had the hospital nurses made the correct diagnosis, it would have been possible to save his leg.

Unfortunately, Luppold’s case is not unique. More than seven million incorrect diagnoses occur yearly in US emergency rooms. As a result, patients incur exorbitant medical bills and suffer intense medical conditions. The frequency of these cases makes the general public doubt healthcare providers and the country’s medical system.

Victims of medical malpractice should be aware of their right to seek reasonable reparations for their losses. Erring doctors should be held accountable for giving the wrong diagnosis and ruining their patients’ lives. You can protect yourself by expanding your legal knowledge. Start by seeking legal advice from competent personal injury attorneys. 

Visit The Medical The Personal Injury Center to stay updated with the legal developments in the healthcare industry. You can browse our extensive selection of legal articles about misdiagnosis, medical malpractice, and more. We drafted every blog to ensure readers can grasp the most crucial details, even without a legal background.

Key Takeaways
  • At least 7 million misdiagnosis cases occur in US emergency rooms annually.
  • Patients suffering from the consequences of their doctor’s erroneous diagnosis may file a medical malpractice lawsuit.
  • Proving misdiagnosis necessitates establishing the four elements of negligence: duty of care, breach, causation, and damages.

What is misdiagnosis?  

Misdiagnosis refers to the act of rendering an incorrect diagnosis. For example, declaring a patient ill from a specific disease instead of another. It may also pertain to the act of mistakingly diagnosing a patient with a condition when they are actually healthy.

Negative effects of misdiagnosis 

Generally, misdiagnosis may worsen a patient’s health. The doctor’s negligence may bear the following consequences:

  • Extreme confusion
  • Emotional distraught
  • Failed medical interventions
  • Excessive medical bills
  • Wrongful death

Commonly misdiagnosed conditions 

A 2022 study identified the following as the ten most misdiagnosed diseases:

  • Colorectal cancer
  • Lung cancer 
  • Breast cancer 
  • Heart attack (myocardial infarction)
  • Prostate cancer
  • Stroke
  • Sepsis
  • Bladder cancer
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Brain hemorrhage

Misdiagnosis vs. delayed diagnosis vs. failure to diagnose

Misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, and failure to diagnose are distinct legal concepts. Each one can be a subject of a medical malpractice claim.

In contrast to misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis is the doctor’s failure to identify a patient’s condition within a reasonable timeframe. This delay can result in the patients developing health problems due to delayed interventions. Moreover, it can be challenging to calculate diagnostic delays, especially when the patient’s medical condition is progressive.

On the other hand, the failure to diagnose occurs if the doctor does not investigate the patient’s condition adequately. For instance, they may not have ordered tests or conducted examinations. Consequently, the patient suffers personal injuries.

Leading Causes of Misdiagnosis

Despite their knowledge and experience, doctors are not immune from misdiagnosing their patients’ conditions. Hence, they should actively improve themselves. The following are the common reasons why misdiagnosis occurs:

  • Poor communication between the healthcare provider and patient
  • Miscommunication between medical professionals
  • Attending physician’s lack of experience
  • Attending physician’s inadvertence 
  • The attending physician did not spend enough time with the patient
  • Lack of or usage of outdated resources
  • Improper or inappropriate diagnostic tests
  • Overconfidence or arrogance
  • Personal bias

Doctors must take appropriate steps to ensure a correct and accurate diagnosis. They should maintain a good relationship with the patients and other medical professionals. Additionally, they should stay vigilant to anticipate potential technical errors.

Tell-Tale Signs of Misdiagnosis 

You may notice the following signs when your doctor misdiagnoses your condition:

  • Your symptoms overlap with those of many other diseases.
  • The discussion you had with the healthcare provider felt rushed.
  • The doctor did not go through your medical history.
  • You did not undergo proper testing.
  • The doctor did not explore all appropriate diagnostic tests and tools.
  • If the doctor ordered some tests, they did not thoroughly review the test results.
  • When you asked for a second opinion, the recent findings were inconsistent with the previous one.
  • The ongoing treatment is not delivering positive results.
  • Your medical condition is worsening.

After observing these signs, pay attention to the changes happening in your body. Report your observations to a more trustworthy healthcare provider. Never tolerate an incorrect diagnosis.

Misdiagnosis as a Personal Injury  

Between 40,000 to 80,000 deaths occur in the US due to medical misdiagnosis. The impact of diagnostic errors affects a larger number of people than most expect.

A simple misdiagnosis can be life-threatening, and victims deserve justice for their losses. As a remedy, they may raise this error as a cause of action in a personal injury case.

What is personal injury? 

A personal injury is any infliction that causes harm to a party’s body, emotions, or reputation. Although doctors do not necessarily intend to injure their patients, failing to render correct diagnoses may result in personal injuries. For example, patients may develop another disease and experience a lower quality of life because of their doctor’s medical negligence.

Right to claim damages 

Under tort law, parties suffering from personal injuries may claim damages. They may demand compensation for their losses resulting from another person’s negligence. 

The costs relating to the injuries patients sustain through a doctor’s misdiagnosis may qualify as damages. Injured parties may recover a justifiable amount against their erring healthcare providers.

What is a medical malpractice lawsuit? 

A medical malpractice case is a category of personal injury lawsuit. It arises when a healthcare practitioner’s actions deviate from the expected standard of care. 

Misdiagnosis constitutes a medical malpractice case. The failure to provide a precise diagnosis deviates from the typical quality of care doctors deliver. In addition, patients cannot file a medical malpractice lawsuit against healthcare providers solely out of dissatisfaction.

What To Do Before Filing a Misdiagnosis Case  

Filing a misdiagnosis case can be tedious and time-consuming. Following these recommendations could help streamline and expedite the legal proceedings:

Keep in touch with the erring medical professional

Acquire the erring doctor’s contact information and maintain constant communication with them. It is ideal for parties to build an amicable relationship with each other to reduce aggression and foster participation.

Seek assistance from the medical licensing board 

Injured parties may ask the medical licensing board to issue a warning against the erring doctor. Although the board can not impose direct disciplinary measures, it can pressure a license holder to participate.

Research about the statute of limitations 

The statute of limitations is the time limit set by law for parties to file a personal injury claim. The court may no longer accept a misdiagnosis lawsuit filed beyond the deadline.

Acquire a Certificate of Merit 

A Certificate of Merit is a document issued by a qualified physician who reviewed the plaintiff’s case in a medical malpractice claim. Some states require patients to procure this document before filing a claim.

Pursue an out-of-court settlement 

Opting for an out-of-court settlement can be a cheaper and faster alternative to a full-blown trial. The duration of court proceedings can vary, with most cases lasting a few years.

Keep a copy of your medical records and bills 

Keep a complete record of relevant documents, so you can readily present them in court. They will be crucial when claiming damages.

How To Prove Misdiagnosis 

Misdiagnosis is a type of medical negligence. Thus, proving a misdiagnosis lawsuit also requires establishing the elements of negligence. 

Claimants in misdiagnosis cases should present the following in court:

Existence of the patient-physician relationship 

The first element of negligence is duty. For a misdiagnosis case to have merit, plaintiffs must demonstrate the existence of a patient-physician relationship

An attorney-client relationship may already exist from the moment a patient seeks medical advice and the doctor entertains them. From then on, doctors should perform their services according to the accepted standards of care.

Breach of professional duty 

A breach happens when a party fails to meet the standards of care they are expected to maintain. In a misdiagnosis case, a physician breaches their duty when they fail to provide timely findings. Above all, the diagnosis should be accurate to provide patients with the specific care they need.

The misdiagnosis harmed the patient 

A party may not file a misdiagnosis lawsuit if the physician’s act did not harm them. Although doctors must uphold high standards, they are not faultless. They are susceptible to committing honest mistakes. 

For example, the doctor misdiagnosed the patient’s heart attack as an acid reflux. Since the physician gave a misdiagnosis, the patient may ingest the wrong medications and suffer detrimental side effects.

The misdiagnosis made the patient suffer compensable losses 

To file a misdiagnosis claim, patients should have suffered a valid and compensable injury. As mentioned earlier, compensable damages can either be general or specific. Claimants without either have no grounds to pursue legal action.

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Types of Misdiagnosis Lawsuit  

Patients should specify their causes of action when filing a misdiagnosis lawsuit. Most cases involve the following circumstances:

Misdiagnosis worsening the patient’s medical condition 

In addition to misdiagnosis, patients may hold their doctor responsible for the deterioration of their health. The wrongful identification of health issues may prompt physicians to implement inappropriate medical interventions, exacerbating the patient’s condition.

Misdiagnosis prompting unnecessary surgeries 

US hospitals perform more than 100,000 unnecessary medical procedures for patients from March to December 2020. Typical examples would be removing the wrong organ or unnecessarily amputating a healthy limb.

Misdiagnosis leading to medication errors 

The US Food and Drug Association (FDA) receives over 100,000 complaints of potential medication errors annually. This situation is most common in senior care homes. Some patients overdose on maintenance medication due to misdiagnosis. 

Claimable Damages in a Misdiagnosis Lawsuit  

Parties in a medical malpractice lawsuit may claim compensatory and non-compensatory damages. It’s important to specify the following components when filing against erring doctors:

General Damages

General damages or non-economic damages cover injuries that are not easily quantifiable. It compensates for the following:

  • Discomfort
  • Disfigurement
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of consortium
  • Mental anguish
  • Pain and suffering
  • Permanent impairments
  • Reduced quality of life
  • Scarring

In a misdiagnosis lawsuit, injured parties can demand compensation for their distress. The misdiagnosis may have intensified the patient’s anxiety, impacted their mental health, and caused significant restlessness.

Special damages

Special damages or economic damages cover quantifiable and objective injuries. Besides the existing injuries, victims may also demand compensation for future expenses. These costs reflect the financial impact resulting from their existing conditions or ongoing treatment.

Here are the most common examples of special damages:

  • Compensation for lost earning capacity
  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Past and future lost wages
  • Rehabilitation costs
  • Repair costs for damaged properties

Punitive damages

Unlike the first two, punitive damages are not compensatory. Instead, they are retributive. They are a penalty given to parties who committed grave wrongdoings. As a result, the court finds it necessary to deter their actions by imposing additional damages. 

The grant and value of punitive damages depend entirely on the court’s discretion. In many cases, the courts impose the payment of punitive damages if the case involves a wrongful death.

Damage Cap for Misdiagnosis Lawsuits  

A damage cap is a legal limit on the compensation injured parties can claim in a personal injury case. Claimants should adhere to the limits when filing a claim, even if the court or jury awards a higher amount.

One of the most practical purposes of damage caps is to regulate the potential liability of erring parties in paying damages. Sometimes, the claims can be excessive, exceeding what the payor could pay.

There is no universal damage cap in the US. Each state imposes unique conditions that litigants should respect. For medical malpractice cases, most limits are around $250,000 to $500,000.

Did you know?

Diagnostic errors are incredibly damaging to the US economy. The US government loses $750 billion in medical insurance because of misdiagnosis and its consequences.

Find the Best Medical Malpractice Lawyers in Town  

Parties suffering losses due to misdiagnosis have the option to file damages against erring doctors. Moreover, they have the right to receive just compensation for their injuries and losses.

Filing a misdiagnosis lawsuit can be technical and complex, so partner with a reliable medical malpractice lawyer. The Medical The Personal Injury Center offers free case evaluation. Based on the details you provide, we will recommend top-rated attorneys to collaborate with you.

Settle your misdiagnosis lawsuit with the aid of The Medical The Personal Injury Center. Find a medical malpractice attorney from our extensive network of legal professionals.

FAQs on Suing a Doctor for a Misdiagnosis

No, doctors cannot prevent you from seeking a second opinion. However, to hold them liable for this behavior, you must establish that they did not exhibit the standard of care expected of them.

Expert witnesses are often crucial in winning a misdiagnosis case. They help determine whether an erring physician delivered his services according to the accepted standards of care.

A medical malpractice lawyer is a specialist. They are personal injury lawyers with a more extensive background in the medical field and its inner workings. Their deep understanding of the medical field and its complexities allow them to navigate your case effectively.