When you encounter new health symptoms, you may feel confused or nervous. In this situation, you rely on the expert medical knowledge of your primary care doctor, specialist physician, and other healthcare professionals to identify the issue you’re dealing with and recommend the appropriate treatment.
Unfortunately, the critical identification of a disease or condition does not always happen as it should. When a patient does not receive a diagnosis or receives an incorrect diagnosis, the situation is legally known as failure to diagnose.
In some cases, failure to diagnose is a simple mistake that can be corrected by secondary medical staff or tests. However, in other cases, negligence or incompetence on the part of a medical professional means that serious consequences result directly from that professional’s failure to diagnose an illness.
In these cases, the patient whose health, quality of life, ability to work, and prognosis suffered negative effects due to the failure to diagnose may have grounds for a medical malpractice suit. In this blog, we guide you through the primary criteria for personal injury claims of this type.
Responsible Party and Relationship to Patient
When claiming failure to diagnose, as with the majority of personal injury suits, the burden of proof rests on the person filing the claim. In order for a medical malpractice suit to hold up in court, you must provide evidence of several legally relevant details.
The first detail essential to a failure to diagnose is the party responsible for the diagnostic mistake and that party’s relationship to you, the patient. For example, if your primary care doctor or specialist physician fail to recognize the urgency of your symptoms and postponed a diagnosis, he or she would be the liable party.
However, if, in the same situation, your primary care doctor or specialist physician referred you to a hospital for diagnostic tests and a member of the nursing staff failed to complete a step necessary for accurate readings which then skewed your doctor’s diagnosis, the nurse or hospital may be liable instead.
Regardless of who the responsible party is, you will need to provide evidence that you had an established patient–provider relationship with the second party at the time of the diagnostics mistake.
Additional Factors Leading to Diagnostic Mistakes
In some cases, extenuating circumstances affect the liability of the responsible party in a case of failure to diagnose. In the hypothetical example from the last section, for example, the nursing staff or hospital could be liable for failing to administer a vital portion of a diagnostic test but might not be liable if the test was defective.
Your attorney can help you determine if any additional circumstances may factor into your claim.
Role of Negligence or Incompetence in Diagnostic Mistakes
Mistakes can happen in any occupation, unfortunately, including health care. Not all diagnostics mistakes constitute medical malpractice. In order for the error to rise to the legal standard of malpractice, the mistake must result from negligence or gross incompetence.
You will need to provide evidence that the responsible party could have and should have provided a more complete and/or correct diagnosis but failed to do so. Generally, this evidence comes from an expert witness who testifies regarding what actions a competent medical professional would have made in the situation.
Correlation Between Failure to Diagnose and Legally Relevant Damages
In addition to identifying whether or not the failure to diagnose occurred due to negligence, you must also prove that the diagnostic errors directly lead to the legally relevant damages you suffered.
Because this correlation is so important in your claim being successful, most medical malpractice suits of this type involve life-threatening conditions or illness resulting in permanent injury.
For example, it is easier to draw correlations between diagnostic mistakes and the repercussions of those errors on conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular disorders than on more minor illnesses.
If an incorrect diagnosis, partial diagnosis, or delayed diagnosis directly affected your long-term health, you likely have a case for failure to diagnose. Legally relevant damages in these cases may include:
- Permanent conditions or injuries, such as paralysis, due to treatment being delayed by diagnostic errors
- Shortened life expectancy prognosis in terminal cases where remission may have been possible with earlier detection
- Wrongful death due to missed or misdiagnosed symptoms
Medical records and expert testimony may both be used to provide supporting evidence that the diagnostic errors directly resulted in harm to the patient.
If you have suffered medical complications or other repercussions due to a medical professional’s failure to identify your medical condition promptly and correctly, as well as to recommend appropriate treatment, you may have grounds for a medical malpractice claim of failure to diagnose.
Consider the information explained above and consult with a personal injury attorney whose practice area includes experience with medical malpractice cases to determine your next best step.
For expert legal advice on personal injury claims, including failure to diagnose and general medical malpractice suits, trust the team at Shay & Associates.