A medical misdiagnosis case involves an incorrect diagnosis, delayed diagnosis, or a failure to diagnose medical conditions or complications that result in patient injury. As a result of medical negligence caused by misdiagnosis, pre existing conditions are made worse or new medical conditions and injuries. In the United States, medical malpractice claims due to misdiagnosis are a common lawsuit against doctors.

If you or a loved one has suffered severe injuries from a misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose, request a free case evaluation from an attorney at Brown & Crouppen Law Firm. Since 1979, our medical malpractice attorneys have helped clients recover over $1 Billion in compensation including those who have suffered from injuries caused by negligent medical professionals.

What is Misdiagnosis?

A misdiagnosis is a wrong or mistaken diagnosis.  The effects of misdiagnosis may range from minimal to severe.   

Most often when visiting the doctor, the patient will list a range of symptoms they have been experiencing.  The doctor then listens to the symptoms and compiles a list of all the disease processes that could cause those specific symptoms.  A series of diagnostic tests are then ordered.  As the results come back, multiple diagnoses are ruled out, until only one remains.  At that time, the final diagnosis is made, and treatment is adjusted, or started, to fit the specific disease process.  

The process of diagnosing sounds simple, but there are several factors that may complicate the situation.  For instance, when a patient is not forthcoming with all their symptoms or events related to the instance that brought them in for care.  Delays in processing lab results, technical issues with machinery, etc. can also play a part.  An incorrect diagnosis is not necessarily grounds for a medical malpractice suit.  The plaintiff (that is-the patient) must be able to prove that the misdiagnosis was the result of incompetence of the doctor. In essence, that the doctor failed to consider all of the acceptable differential diagnosis, thus missing one that ultimately caused the patient harm.  

Common Types of Medical Misdiagnosis

There are several ways that a medical misdiagnosis can occur.  The diagnosis does not specifically have to be wrong, in fact many diagnoses are correct, but the timing was delayed causing progression of a disease or a more severe treatment regimen.

See the common types of medical misdiagnosis below:

  • Wrong diagnosis – The patient is diagnosed with a condition that they actually do not have.  This is often seen when patients are not forthcoming with the entirety of their symptoms, or there is an error in a diagnostic test.  Many times, different disease processes have similar symptoms. 
  • Missed diagnosis – A missed diagnosis is one in which the client receives a clean bill of health when there is indeed something wrong.  This is seen often in rare or mild disease processes and can have not only significant physical, but also mental effects.
  • Retained foreign bodies – Perhaps the most common surgical mistake, a retained foreign body is noted as either an instrument, or assistive device that it left in the body when performing a surgery.  Sponges are notoriously common.  To prevent this, strict equipment counts are utilized to ensure that whatever is used during the surgery is also accounted for before the body is closed.  Failure to obtain all items used in surgery before closure, will result in the need for a second surgery to remove the item.  
  • Delayed diagnosis – A delayed diagnosis is a diagnosis that is correct, but it did not occur in a timely manner. One of the most common types of misdiagnoses, this is seen often in emergency medicine when face to face physician time is minimal, and physicians are not aware of the history of the patient. Common cases include delayed cancer diagnosis and delayed heart attack diagnosis. 
  • Failure to recognize complications – The physician makes a correct diagnosis but fails to identify other factors which can complicate the disease.  For example, a physician may correctly diagnose a mental health illness such as depression, but they fail to ask about or test the patient’s kidney function and prescribe medication with nephrotoxic effects.      
  • Failure to recognize a related disease – The physician correctly diagnoses one disease but fails to diagnose a related disease that typically accompanies the diagnosed disease.  An example would be if an elderly patient is diagnosed with neuropathy, but the physician fails to test for diabetes.  Uncontrolled diabetes is known to increase the severity of neuropathy, so that cause must also be treated.
  • Failure to recognize an unrelated disease – Same principle as above, one disease is correctly diagnosed, but another, completely unrelated to the first, was evident in diagnostics and not diagnosed. 

It is important to recognize that a surgical error can occur at any level of the medical process.  For instance, if the laboratory technician mixes up blood samples and reports incorrect information to two different patients, the physician may accurately read the reports that came through, but because they were for the wrong patient, the diagnosis is incorrect.  At this point, the lab technician is to blame, not the physician, who was acting on the information they were provided. 

Legal Considerations & Proving A Misdiagnosis In A Medical Malpractice Claim

Specific timelines must be followed to ensure the proper handling of the medical malpractice case for misdiagnosis claim.  In addition, the burden of proof falls on the patient (you) to prove that the physician, or other members of the medical team, did not act as a trained individual with the same skill set and qualifications.

For a misdiagnosis case to be successful, the following must occur:

  1. The doctor and patient must have a doctor-patient relationship.   
  2. The doctor was negligent-that is, the physician did not act in a manner as a similar doctor with similar qualifications would have in both skill and competence.  
  3. The doctor’s negligence caused harm to the patient.

In addition to the above, if the misdiagnosis was a result of a diagnostic error, the patient must also prove the following:

  1. that the doctor did not accurately add the disease to the list of differential diagnosis and a reasonable and competent physician would have.   
  2. Or, the doctor did add the correct diagnosis, but failed to order the appropriate testing to prove/disprove or seek expert advice on such diagnosis. 

Just because a mistake is made, does not necessarily mean that there is a malpractice suit.  Most misdiagnosis claims are dependent on proving the second and third issues, that the doctor was negligent, and the negligence caused harm.  If the doctor can prove that he/she acted competently, then there is no case.  

When you believe a medical error has been made, time is of the essence.  Each state puts a time limit on when a complaint can be filed with the court. This date is known as the Statute of Limitation date.  Failure to submit the claim by the Statute of Limitation date most often will prevent the patient from seeking a lawsuit in the future.  The actual date set varies depending on the type of injury incurred.  Most states range between 1-3 years with a few extending the time period to 5 years.

For example, in Missouri, the following restrictions apply (Missouri Statute 516.105):

  • General statute of limitation is 2 years, meaning a patient has two years from the date of injury to file a complaint with the court.  
  • In the case of a retained instrument, the court allows two years from the date the instrument was discovered, not necessarily the date the instrument was left in the body.   
  • In the case of misdiagnosis, the court allows two years from the date of the discovery that a patient was misinformed about medical tests.   
  • Additionally, any minor has until his or her twentieth birthday to bring such action.  
  • Under no circumstance will any case be allowed to be filed after a period of 10 years.

Legal Considerations for Lawsuits Against Doctors & Surgeons

Surgical error lawsuits fall under the category of medical malpractice, and the legal process can be confusing and lengthy.  Obtaining early representation ensures that the case meets the legal requirements before a case is filed. 

The legal elements that must be proven include:  

  1. Duty (a professional duty was owed to the patient), 
  2. the medical professional breached that duty, and in so doing caused  
  3. Injury and  
  4. resulting damages ensued.   

The timing of filing a medical malpractice claim is extremely important.  Each state has their own statute of limitations that must be followed otherwise the case will not be considered and the patient loses their right to bring a suit in the future. 

For example, in Missouri, the following restrictions apply (Missouri Statute 516.105): 

  • General statute of limitation is 2 years, meaning a patient has two years from the date of injury to file a complaint with the court.  
  • In the case of a retained instrument, the court allows two years from the date the instrument was discovered, not necessarily the date the instrument was left in the body.   
  • In the case of misdiagnosis, the court allows two years from the date of the discovery that a patient was misinformed about medical tests.   
  • Additionally, any minor has until his or her twentieth birthday to bring such action.   
  • Under no circumstance will any case be allowed to be filed after a period of 10 years 

Request A Free Case Evaluation from Brown & Crouppen Law Firm

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury due to a medical misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose, you may have the right to pursue financial compensation for hospital costs, your loved one’s lost wages, and pain and suffering. Getting started is easy. You can call us at 800-536-4357 for a free consultation,  or tell us about your case with our free case review form. And remember, there’s no upfront cost to you — if you don’t get paid, we don’t get paid.

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