Can I File a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit for a Delayed Diagnosis?

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When a patient seeks medical attention for a health concern, he or she should expect that the health care provider is going to conduct a thorough examination, accurately diagnose the problem, and proceed with an effective treatment protocol. Unfortunately, this does not always happen. In the United States, medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death behind cancer and cardiovascular disease. Delayed diagnosis is one example of a medical error that is surprisingly common and can have a devastating impact on the patient’s health, particularly if the delay allows the condition to progress and become much more difficult to treat. In extreme cases, the health condition may progress to a point at which it is no longer treatable. Although not all medical errors warrant a medical malpractice lawsuit, a patient may consider taking legal action if negligence was involved. Patients who suffer serious health complications as a result of a delayed diagnosis and wish to pursue a malpractice lawsuit are urged to contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible.

What is a Delayed Diagnosis?

A delayed diagnosis occurs when a health care provider fails to identify a patient’s personal injury, illness, or other health condition within a reasonable amount of time. For example, if a patient sought medical care for a recurring chest infection, persistent breathlessness, and a nagging cough, and the doctor treated the patient with antibiotics before eventually diagnosing the patient with lung cancer, the delayed diagnosis and failure to recommend the appropriate treatment protocol can allow the cancer to spread and become much more difficult to treat. If it can be proved that the delay in diagnosis caused harm to the patient, he or she may have grounds to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit.

A misdiagnosis is similar to a delayed diagnosis in that it can result in the illness, injury, or disease progressing, making it more difficult to treat. However, a misdiagnosis occurs when the health care provider makes a diagnosis within a reasonable amount of time, but the diagnosis is incorrect. For example, if a doctor diagnoses a patient with bladder cancer and starts the patient on a treatment regimen for that type of cancer when the patient actually has prostate cancer, which would require a different type of treatment, the patient may have a valid medical malpractice lawsuit.

When is a Delayed Diagnosis Considered Medical Malpractice?

Although patients may assume that any medical mistake, including a misdiagnosis or a delayed diagnosis, would be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit, this is not always the case. For example, if the patient did not seek medical attention until the condition had progressed, the health care provider cannot be held liable for failing to diagnose the condition earlier. In addition, if the patient does seek medical attention but fails to report all of the symptoms that he or she is experiencing, the doctor cannot be held liable for medical malpractice. However, when the health care provider violates the medical standard of care that it owed to the patient, the patient may have grounds to pursue a malpractice lawsuit. The following are examples of a delayed or incorrect medical diagnosis that are considered medical malpractice:

  • The health care provider detects abnormalities in a routine blood test but fails to order additional tests.
  • A patient reports symptoms that could indicate a serious illness, but the doctor diagnoses a condition that is less serious.
  • The patient’s laboratory work gets misplaced or is conducted incorrectly.
  • The doctor does not refer the patient to a specialist, even though the symptoms and/or test results suggest that the doctor should have done so.
  • The health care provider should have conducted additional tests or asked follow-up questions but failed to do so.
  • The health care provider failed to take action that another experienced doctor would have done under similar circumstances.

It is also important for patients to understand that, in order for a health care provider to be guilty of medical malpractice, the misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis must have caused harm to the patient. If a delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis occurred but the patient did not suffer any harm, this does not qualify as a valid medical malpractice lawsuit. In order to determine whether negligence took place in a medical malpractice lawsuit, a medical malpractice lawyer will conduct a thorough investigation, which will include reviewing the doctor’s differential diagnosis. Also referred to as simply the differential, this methodology is used to compile a list of medical conditions that may be the likely cause of the patient’s symptoms. Additional tests are often performed to examine each item on the differential.

How Do I Prove Liability for a Delayed Diagnosis?

In order to prove that a delayed diagnosis resulted in medical malpractice, the patient must be able to demonstrate the following:

  • A doctor-patient relationship existed at the time of the delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis. This can be done by obtaining copies of medical records, test results, and doctor’s notes.
  • The health care provider breached the standard of care by failing to diagnose the condition sooner. If it can be proved that another doctor with comparable experience in the same medical field would have made an accurate diagnosis sooner, the patient may have a valid malpractice case.
  • The patient suffered harm as a result of the doctor’s negligence. For example, if the delayed diagnosis caused a patient’s cancer to spread, making the treatment more complicated and potentially less effective, the doctor may be held liable for the harm caused to the patient.
  • The injuries resulted in damages. A medical malpractice lawyer will be able to connect the patient’s injuries to the financial or emotional damages he or she incurred.

Proving negligence, and the resulting harm to the patient, often requires the testimony of a qualified medical expert who practices in the same medical discipline as the doctor who is being sued. If it can be established that the medical expert would have diagnosed the patient sooner, and that the doctor named in the lawsuit breached the standard of care, the patient will likely have a valid medical malpractice case. For example, if a medical expert testifies that he or she would have diagnosed a health condition within two days, but the doctor named in the lawsuit took two weeks to properly diagnose the patient’s illness, the patient would likely have a valid lawsuit.

How can a Medical Malpractice Lawyer Help?

Medical malpractice cases can be very complicated, so it is highly recommended that patients consult with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer who will protect their legal rights and ensure that they reach a successful financial settlement. A skilled medical malpractice lawyer understands how stressful and overwhelming it can be to pursue a malpractice lawsuit while suffering from the serious health complications caused by a delayed diagnosis. There are a range of documents that must be collected and expert witnesses that must be contacted and briefed about the case. Having a skilled and dedicated legal team on the patient’s side, protecting their legal rights, means that the patient can focus on their health.

What Damages May I Receive in a Medical Malpractice Case?

Oftentimes, patients forget that doctors are human and capable of making mistakes. However, when the mistake could have been avoided and the patient’s health is compromised by the mistake, he or she may be eligible to collect financial compensation, including the following:

Economic damages. These are meant to restore the patient for the monetary losses he or she suffered as a result of the negligent medical treatment. There is no cap on economic damages in Maryland.  These damages include the following:

  • All medical expenses associated with the health issues caused by the doctor’s negligence
  • Lost wages caused by the patient being unable to return to work as a result of his or her injuries or health complications
  • Loss of future earning capacity

Non-economic damages. These compensate the patient for the pain and emotional distress caused by the negligent medical behavior. In Maryland, the cap on non-economic damages for 2021 is $890,000 and $1,335,500 for a wrongful death case. Non-economic damages compensate the patient for the following:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of consortium
  • Disability or disfigurement
  • Wrongful death benefits if the delayed diagnosis resulted in a fatality

Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Advocate for Patients Injured by a Delayed Diagnosis

If you or a loved one suffered a serious health complication resulting from a delayed diagnosis, do not hesitate to contact the Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We will conduct a thorough investigation into the details of your case and determine whether the health care provider responsible for your care was negligent in any way. Our dedicated legal team will walk you through every step of the claims process, address all of your questions and concerns, and ensure that you receive the maximum financial compensation you deserve for your injuries. We will not stop fighting for you until you are completely satisfied. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.