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Is a Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis Considered Medical Malpractice?

For patients experiencing illness or injury, one of the most crucial steps on the path to healing is obtaining a proper diagnosis of their condition as early as possible. Without a timely and accurate diagnosis, patients may suffer a worsening of their condition, additional complications, or even death, which could potentially have been prevented with the right treatment. In these cases, patients may wonder if the doctors entrusted with their care may be liable for medical malpractice. As with many other questions of liability, the short answer is that it depends on the circumstances.

Defining Misdiagnosis and Delayed Diagnosis

As one of the most common reasons for medical malpractice cases, misdiagnoses occur when a doctor recognizes that a patient has a medical condition, but incorrectly identifies what it is. For example, a patient who complains of chest discomfort may be wrongly diagnosed with a gastric condition when they are actually experiencing a heart attack.

Delayed diagnosis, on the other hand, is when the doctor eventually arrives at the right diagnosis, but only after a significant delay. Without the delay, the patient may have been able to receive timely treatment that could have prevented unnecessary suffering or worsening of their condition.

Elements of a Medical Malpractice Claim

Neither misdiagnosis nor delayed diagnosis automatically constitutes malpractice; given the complexities of the human body, even highly competent medical professionals can fall victim to these errors under certain circumstances. To successfully establish a malpractice claim, plaintiffs must prove the following three elements:

  • The existence of a doctor-patient relationship.
  • The doctor’s, nurse’s or hospital’s negligence. This is the most commonly disputed element in many medical malpractice cases. Plaintiffs must show that the health care provider did not follow the applicable standard of care in reaching a diagnosis—in other words, that a different doctor or provider in a similar specialty, facing similar circumstances, would have succeeded in making a timely, accurate diagnosis. Proving this typically requires an expert to examine the defendant’s process of differential diagnosis, which is a systemic method that doctors use to identify several possible conditions the patient may have, with the goal of eliminating alternatives upon further examination and ultimately arriving at the correct diagnosis. With the help of expert testimony, plaintiffs generally must show that either the defendant did not include the correct condition on their list of differential diagnoses (while a reasonably skilled and competent doctor would have), or that the defendant did include the correct condition, but did not perform the proper tests to arrive at an accurate diagnosis.
  • The health care provider’s negligence caused actual injury to the plaintiff. Plaintiffs must show that because of the defendant’s negligent failure to make a correct diagnosis in a timely manner, their condition progressed beyond what it normally would have, and this progression negatively impacted treatment. For example, this may be established if a delayed cancer diagnosis caused cancer to metastasize, resulting in the patient’s death or need for more aggressive treatment.

Whether due to misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, or another cause, medical malpractice cases are among the most complex types of personal injury cases. Therefore, successfully establishing a malpractice claim requires the assistance of an attorney with significant experience in this field.

At Leighton Law, our team has been representing victims of medical errors for over 35 years, and we have won some of the largest medical malpractice verdicts in Florida history—including a record-setting $24 million verdict. Attorney John Leighton is a charter member of the Cooperative Association of Medical Malpractice Attorneys and regularly teaches other attorneys how to handle these types of cases. He has written articles and delivered lectures on litigating and trying malpractice cases throughout the United States. He has been selected for The Best Lawyers in America for Medical Malpractice and is a board certified trial specialist by the Florida Bar.

If you or a loved one has suffered harm due to a medical misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, the time to act is now—call us at 888.988.1774 to schedule a consultation.

 

 

Article by:

John Leighton

A nationally-recognized trial lawyer who handles catastrophic injury and death cases. He manages Leighton Law, P.A. trial lawyers, with offices in Miami and Orlando, Florida. He is President of The National Crime Victim Bar Association, author of the 2-volume textbook,Litigating Premises Security Cases, and past Chairman of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s Motor Vehicle, Highway & Premises Liability Section. Having won some of the largest verdicts in Florida history, Mr. Leighton is listed inThe Best Lawyers in America (14 years), “Top Lawyers” in the South Florida Legal Guide (15 years), Top 100 Florida SuperLawyer™ and Florida SuperLawyers (14 years), “Orlando Legal Elite” by Orlando Style magazine, and FloridaTrend magazine “Florida Legal Elite

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