Can you sue a doctor for a wrong diagnosis?

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When a doctor fails to make an accurate and timely diagnosis of a harmful medical condition, a patient may be able to appeal by filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. But it’s important to remember that mistakes and bad results don’t always mean medical negligence, at least not in the eyes of the law. (Learn more about when it’s a medical error and when it’s not.)

The central question in such cases is whether the service provider has violated the applicable “medical care standard” under the given circumstances. In other words, would a similarly trained doctor in the same medical community have discovered (or identified within a shorter period of time) the health problem? In the following sections, we will discuss some common misdiagnosis scenarios and illustrate how this type of medical malpractice lawsuit could play out.

Common types of misdiagnosis

While there are so many potential misdiagnosed scenarios like illness and other health issues, some of the most common types of misdiagnosis are:

  • Asthma (often misdiagnosed as recurrent bronchitis)
  • Cancer (misdiagnosis can lead to painful, debilitating, and unnecessary treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation)
  • Heart attack (can be mistaken for indigestion, panic attacks, or other problems)
  • Inflammation of the lymph nodes (can be confused with appendicitis)
  • Staph infection (may be misdiagnosed as common flu)
  • Stroke (may be dismissed as a migraine or some other relatively minor problem, especially in younger patients)

Typically, a case of misdiagnosis involves either delayed diagnosis or mismanagement of diagnostic tests. Misdiagnosis can also include:

  • Failure to look for a specific medical condition
  • Failure to refer a patient to a specialist
  • Misinterpretation of laboratory test results
  • Failure to properly consult the patient about their symptoms, and
  • Failure to properly follow up and investigate the possible causes of the reported symptoms.

Medical malpractice lawsuits for misdiagnosis

In misdiagnosis litigation, plaintiffs typically have to follow the same evidential steps as they would in any other medical malpractice case. As a rule, it must be demonstrated that if the doctor has not been able to accurately diagnose a harmful condition, he has not demonstrated the level of expertise that a similarly trained and experienced doctor would have shown in the given circumstances. Treatment details – what should have been done and what was actually done – usually need to be determined by a qualified medical expert. It must also be proven that the inadequate medical care has caused harm to the patient.

Who can be sued?

In most cases, only the general practitioner (your doctor) can be sued for misdiagnosis. In rare cases, other health professionals may also be held liable if their negligence caused or contributed to the harm to the patient – including nurses, laboratory technicians, and specialists who may have seen the patient. The hospital or health facility where the doctor practices cannot usually be sued for damage caused by misdiagnosis. This is because most doctors are independent contractors and not employees of the hospital, so the facility cannot be legally held responsible for the doctor’s negligence.

Indicates harm to the patient.

It is not enough to show that the doctor did not make the correct diagnosis. A doctor’s liability case is only successful if it is proven that the misdiagnosis has caused harm to the patient. Misdiagnosis or belated diagnosis can harm the patient in a number of ways, including:

  • Exposing the patient to more aggressive treatment than would have been necessary if the disease or medical condition had been diagnosed earlier
  • expose the patient to unnecessary harmful treatments (such as radiation or chemotherapy)
  • Performing unnecessary surgical interventions (especially if there is scarring or disfigurement)
  • increased likelihood of complications and
  • increased likelihood of death.

View the statute of limitations in the event of misdiagnosis

After all, in every case of medical malpractice – in every type of legal proceeding – the plaintiffs must observe the deadlines for going to court and initiating legal proceedings. You must file the original document (the complaint) within a certain period of time after you have suffered the damage that led to the lawsuit. These periods are set by state laws (statutes), therefore they are called “statutes of limitations”. In some jurisdictions, the statute of limitations “clock” may not start until the injury is discovered or the patient has had a reasonable opportunity to discover the injury. For example, in California, a patient has three years to file a medical malpractice claim after the damage occurred or one year after the damage was discovered or should have been discovered, whichever comes first. Learn more about the statute of limitations for medical malpractice proceedings.

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