Can You Sue a Doctor for Misdiagnosis?

Medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, surgeons, and anesthesiologists, have a duty of care to prevent harm to their patients. Medicine is an inherently uncertain science, and no two patients are exactly alike, but honest mistakes, diagnostic errors, and laboratory mix-ups can and do happen all the time. When these incidents result in patient harm, the injured patient should know whether he or she has the option to take legal action.

One of the leading causes of medical malpractice lawsuits in the country is misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose. Many medical conditions and diseases mimic the appearance of others, but doctors who diagnose their patients must use an appropriate diagnostic method to limit this confusion. A diagnostic error on its own is not enough to warrant a medical malpractice lawsuit, but if negligence led to the diagnostic error, the patient could pursue a medical malpractice claim. Read on to learn more about suing a doctor for misdiagnosis or consider speaking with a qualified NYC medical malpractice lawyer.

Elements of Medical Malpractice

To prove medical malpractice, a plaintiff with a claim will need to prove that an official doctor-patient relationship existed between the plaintiff and the defendant. This means the doctor must have offered to treat the patient and the patient agreed to the doctor’s treatment. The next element of a malpractice claim is proving negligence. This means the plaintiff must prove another reasonable professional with a similar skill set would have acted differently in the same situation, or that the defendant failed to provide competent treatment.

Finally, the plaintiff must also prove the defendant’s negligence resulted in harm to the patient. If a diagnostic error caused you to incur additional medical expenses, endure more pain and suffering during recovery, and miss more days from work then you anticipated, these are all damages you could potentially recover through a lawsuit.

The Differential Diagnosis Process

When a patient’s symptoms could be several possible conditions, doctors use a differential diagnosis process to determine the most likely cause of the patient’s symptoms. As the doctor reviews a patient’s condition, he or she develops a differential diagnosis list that includes all the possible diagnoses for the patient. The doctor then uses a process of elimination to reach a diagnosis. If a doctor failed to include the patient’s correct diagnosis on this list when another reasonable doctor in the same situation would have included it, this could be grounds for malpractice. Additionally, if the doctor did include the correct diagnosis but failed to fully investigate the possibility with additional testing, this could also indicate medical malpractice.

It’s important to remember that even skillful, competent medical professionals can make reasonable mistakes from time to time. It’s also possible that a diagnostic error occurred due to a problem with laboratory testing or a malfunctioning piece of diagnostic equipment. For example, a doctor using an improperly calibrated blood pressure monitor may not be able to discern a problem with the patient’s blood pressure.

The two main defenses available to doctors in medical malpractice lawsuits for misdiagnoses include human error and testing failure. A testing failure could apply to mishandled laboratory samples, malfunctioning testing equipment, or other inaccuracies outside of the doctor’s control. Human error may apply to mismanaged testing samples, mislabeled lab results, or a specialist missing a key diagnostic issue during testing.

Ultimately, you can only file a medical malpractice claim for a diagnostic error if another physician with similar skills could have avoided the error in the same situation. You will also need to prove the extent of your damages resulting from the incident. Speak with a medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible if you believe a misdiagnosis was more than just an honest mistake and resulted from medical negligence.