When Can I File A Medical Malpractice Claim For Misdiagnosis Of An Illness? - O'Connor Acciani & Levy

When Can I File A Medical Malpractice Claim For Misdiagnosis Of An Illness?

April 10, 2017 | By O'Connor Acciani & Levy
When Can I File A Medical Malpractice Claim For Misdiagnosis Of An Illness?

A lot of medical malpractice lawsuits have to do with misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of an illness or medical condition. Misdiagnosis can cause a patient's condition to get much worse and even cause death in some situations. If you or a loved one was a victim of medical misdiagnosis, you may want to file a medical malpractice lawsuit to recover compensation for physical, financial and emotional damages. However, every instance of misdiagnosis does not provide the basis for a successful medical malpractice lawsuit. There are several things you have to establish to show that you or your loved one was a victim of medical malpractice.

Proving Medical Malpractice

There are four things you have to prove to prevail in a medical malpractice lawsuit concerning the misdiagnosis of your medical condition:
  • Doctor-patient relationship – This is one of the easiest things to prove in a medical malpractice case. You simply need to show that the doctor in question provided treatment or you agreed to receive treatment.
  • Duty of care – Once a doctor-patient relationship is established, a duty of care is established as well. A duty of care is a legal obligation to provide treatment within accepted standards of care in the medical community. Another way of saying this is that the physician must provide the same level of care that a similarly trained physician would provide if he or she were in a similar situation.
  • Breach of the duty of care – This means that the physician failed to provide care that fell within the acceptable standard of care for the situation. Your medical malpractice attorney will have to obtain testimony from a medical expert to show what the standard of care was for your particular situation.
  • The breach of the duty of care led to your injuries – This is one of the hardest parts of any medical malpractice case. You have to show that the doctor's negligence was the primary cause of your injuries. An experienced attorney will know how to build a strong case that rules out other factors in your injuries, such as preexisting injuries or your actions after receiving treatment.

When Is Misdiagnosis Considered Medical Malpractice?

Mistakes or errors in the diagnosis of an illness do not necessarily prove that a medical professional breached his or her duty of care. You have to prove that the medical professional in question acted incompetently at some point during the process of diagnosing your illness. The only way to do that is to review the differential diagnosis method the doctor used to arrive at your diagnosis.

Differential Diagnosis

This is a common method doctors use to identify a patient's disease or medical condition. There are several steps in the process:
  • Preliminary evaluation – After evaluating the patient, the doctor makes a list of potential diagnoses in order of probability.
  • Testing each diagnosis – The physician makes more observations about the patient, asks questions about symptoms and medical history, orders tests, and may refer the patient to specialists.
  • Adding more diagnoses – In some situations, new information will come to light that causes the doctor to add more diagnoses to his list.
  • Eliminating diagnoses – The doctor will slowly rule out diagnoses until discovering the one the patient is actually suffering from.

Proving Incompetence During Differential Diagnosis

There are many ways the doctor could have committed medical malpractice during the differential diagnosis process:
  • Failing to include the correct illness - The medical professional in question failed to include the correct diagnosis on his or her list, when a similarly trained, competent doctor in a similar situation would have included the correct diagnosis on the list.
  • Failing to properly investigate a diagnosis - The correct diagnosis was added to the list, but the doctor failed to conduct appropriate testing and seek opinions from specialists to investigate the viability of the diagnosis.
  • Picking the wrong illness – This is when a doctor diagnoses you with one medical issue when you actually have a different disease or illness.
  • Missed diagnosis – This is when a medical professional says you are completely healthy when you actually have a disease.
  • Delayed diagnosis – There is a significant delay in the doctor making the correct diagnosis, which results in the medical issue progressing and becoming worse.
  • Failing to diagnose a related disease – A related disease is one that is closely tied to the primary condition or has a higher risk of occurring in patients with your primary disease.
  • Failing to diagnose an unrelated disease – This is when the doctor correctly diagnoses your primary illness but fails to notice an unrelated second disease.

Diagnostic Errors

In some cases, the doctor who treated you misdiagnosed your illness because he relied on inaccurate information from medical tests. This could have occurred if:
  • Testing equipment was faulty or malfunctioning
  • Samples were contaminated
  • Test results were read incorrectly
  • The technician used an improper procedure
  • The technician missed something in an x-ray image
The doctor who treated you may not be liable for these issues, but the technicians might be.

Diseases Most Commonly Misdiagnosed

Some of the most commonly misdiagnosed illnesses or diseases are:
  • Asthma – This is often misdiagnosed as recurring bronchitis.
  • Cancer – Patients are often diagnosed with this when they do not have it, causing them to undergo painful treatment like radiation and chemotherapy. Doctors could also fail to diagnose cancer when the patient has the disease, allowing it to spread and negatively impact the patient's chances of survival.
  • Stroke – Sometimes doctors dismiss this condition as a migraine, particularly in younger patients
  • Staph infection – Doctors may misdiagnose this as the flu.
  • Heart attack – This is mistaken for panic attacks or indigestion.

Proving That Misdiagnosis Led To Further Harm

Besides proving that negligence occurred, you have to show that negligence led to further injury. There are a variety of ways that misdiagnosis can cause harm to patients, including:
  • Exposing patients to more aggressive treatment than they would have received if not for misdiagnosis of the illness
  • Performing unnecessary surgery
  • Increasing the likelihood of complications from your disease
  • Increasing the likelihood that your medical condition will kill you

Malpractice Statute Of Limitations

Every state has a statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims. The statute of limitations places a limit on the amount of time you have to file a claim. Once the deadline passes, you lose the right to file a claim. In Ohio, malpractice claims have a statute of limitations of one year from one of the following dates, whichever comes later:
  • The date the injury or harm was discovered or should have been discovered with the exercise of reasonable care or due diligence
  • The date the doctor-patient relationship pertaining to your medical condition ended
However, under no circumstances can you file a claim more than four years from the date of your injury. If you believe your misdiagnosis constitutes malpractice, contact the experienced personal injury lawyers of O’Connor, Acciani & Levy for expert guidance. If you have a valid claim, we will guide you through every step of the legal process, working to hold negligent medical providers accountable and fighting for all of the compensation you deserve.