Can You Sue for a Medical Misdiagnosis?

August 31, 2023

Medical misdiagnosis is a public health concern. Every year, about 795,000 Americans die or are permanently disabled because of it. If you or a loved one has been injured by a misdiagnosis, you need to understand your rights.

Can you sue a doctor for misdiagnosis? Can you sue a hospital for misdiagnosis? The answer to both questions is yes if you have suffered an injury from a misdiagnosis. However, there are certain elements you must prove to win your misdiagnosis lawsuit.

Is Misdiagnosis Considered Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice refers to the negligence or failure of a healthcare professional to follow an accepted standard of care, resulting in injury or even death.

Misdiagnosis occurs when a healthcare provider does not identify a patient’s health condition, leading to wrong treatment, delayed treatment, or failure to treat. While not all misdiagnoses amount to medical malpractice, a misdiagnosis can support a medical malpractice claim if it involves negligence. 

Most Common Types of Misdiagnosis

Misdiagnosis can occur in several ways. Here are the most common types:

Incorrect Diagnosis

Incorrect diagnosis happens when a medical practitioner provides an inaccurate conclusion or identification of a patient's medical condition. This means that the diagnosis the healthcare provider gives is not the actual health issue the patient is experiencing

For instance, a patient in the early stages of a heart attack has chest pains, and a doctor diagnoses the chest pains as a symptom of indigestion, missing the signs of an impending heart attack.

A report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality shows that about 1 in 18 emergency department (ED) patients receive an incorrect diagnosis, 1 in 50 will experience an adverse event, and 1 in 350 will suffer permanent disability or death.

There are a number of most misdiagnosed conditions. A report revealed that stroke, pneumonia, sepsis, lung cancer, and venous thromboembolism account for 38.7% of serious misdiagnosis-related harms. A misdiagnosis of your health condition may worsen your state, delay proper treatment for your condition, cause severe harm, and even lead to wrongful death.

Delayed Diagnosis

Delayed diagnoses occur when a patient’s medical condition is undiagnosed for an extended period. Delays in diagnosis can be dangerous, especially when they involve a serious, life-altering disease.

The impact of delay in diagnosis varies depending on the severity of the health condition and how much it has progressed. A delay in diagnosing a minor disease may not cause much harm. For example, a delay in diagnosing a common cold may not cause any damage. You may only suffer the symptoms longer than you should have. Timely diagnosis becomes increasingly important in critical cases. 

For instance, a patient may have a persistent cough and chest pain because they have lung cancer. If a doctor misdiagnoses the cancer as a common respiratory infection and prescribes antibiotics, the delay in diagnosing the cancer could lead to its progression. By the time the correct diagnosis is made, the cancer may have advanced, making it more challenging to treat effectively.

Missed Diagnosis

Also called failure to diagnose, this error occurs when a medical provider fails to identify a patient’s medical condition and makes no diagnosis despite symptoms that should have revealed the condition.

Burden of Proof for Medical Misdiagnosis Malpractice Cases

To prove your medical misdiagnosis case, it is not enough to show that a doctor or other medical professional committed a diagnostic error. The following elements must be demonstrated:

The Existence of a Provider-Patient Relationship

In most cases, it is easy to prove that there was a provider-patient relationship. If the medical professional examined you before making the diagnosis or undertook to treat you, then a provider-patient relationship existed.

Proving this element is as simple as showing that you hired the provider for medical care and they consented to give you medical advice or treat your condition. You can easily demonstrate this by presenting your medical records or medical bills showing there was a provider-patient relationship.

The Provider Did Not Meet the Standard of Care

The provider, by consenting to give you medical advice or treatment, owes you a duty of care. This is a responsibility to provide a quality of care accepted in the medical community. If the provider met the standard of care required in the diagnostic process, then they are not liable, even if there was a diagnostic error.

The standard of care is the level of skill, knowledge, and procedures that another similarly qualified professional in the medical field would ordinarily use. If the provider did not meet the standard of care in arriving at the misdiagnosis, they may be held liable. 

Proving negligence in your misdiagnosis case can be difficult. Usually, you would need to rely on your medical record, an expert witness, or eyewitness testimony to show that the action of the provider deviated from the standard of care. 

The Misdiagnosis Caused You to Suffer an Injury or Harm

You must show that the misdiagnosis led to an injury. You must also demonstrate that the injury or harm would not have happened if there was a correct diagnosis. 

That Harm Resulted in Damages

The last requirement is to prove that the diagnostic error caused losses. They can be economic damages, such as:

  • Medical bills, including future medical bills
  • Cost of home or vehicle modifications because of disability
  • Loss of income
  • Lost or reduced earning capacity

Non-economic damages, including:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Scarring or disfigurement
  • Loss of consortium
  • Reduced quality of life

Hire an Experienced Medical Misdiagnosis Lawyer To Defend Your Case

If you have been injured by a medical misdiagnosis, you may have a right to recover misdiagnosis compensation. Our experienced medical malpractice lawyers at McEldrew Purtell can guide you in seeking compensation for your injuries. Contact us today to discover how we can put our decades of experience to work on your behalf.