Philadelphia Misdiagnosis Attorney: Holding Medical Professionals Accountable
When you don’t feel right and go to the doctor’s office, you likely expect to learn what is causing your symptoms and get appropriate treatment. However, misdiagnoses are fairly common and can lead to worsened conditions, additional injuries, and a poorer prognosis. If you were misdiagnosed and received treatment you didn’t need, or your doctor failed to diagnose your serious health condition, leading to your serious injuries, you might have legal rights to pursue compensation. The Philadelphia misdiagnosis attorneys at the law firm of Raynes & Lawn can analyze your medical records and the facts to determine the viability of your claim. A misdiagnosis can form the basis of a valid medical malpractice claim under certain circumstances.
What Is a Misdiagnosis?
A misdiagnosis is a preventable medical error that occurs when a patient is incorrectly diagnosed with the wrong medical condition instead of the condition from which they are actually suffering. This can lead to serious consequences for the patient if they receive treatment for the diagnosed condition instead of the real issue.
In many cases, a patient will tell their doctor the different symptoms they have experienced. The physician will then use the symptoms to create a list of the various diseases that could cause them. Next, the doctor will order several diagnostic tests to rule out some of the possible diagnoses until a single one remains. At this point, the doctor will make the diagnosis and plan treatment based on the diagnosed condition.
Several different things can go wrong during the diagnostic process and lead to a misdiagnosis. For example, if a patient doesn’t tell the doctor all of the symptoms they are experiencing or the incidents that precipitate them, the doctor might not have enough information to make an accurate diagnosis. Other factors that can complicate the process include lab processing delays, machinery breakdowns, radiology mistakes, and more.
While an incorrect diagnosis isn’t always grounds for a viable medical malpractice claim, it can be in some situations. If the doctor or another medical professional involved in the process makes a serious error that amounts to incompetence and causes the patient to suffer serious injuries as a result of the misdiagnosis, the patient might have grounds to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit. The doctor must consider the acceptable differential diagnoses when trying to diagnose the patient. If they fail to do so, their actions might amount to medical malpractice.
Misdiagnosis vs. Missed Diagnosis vs. Failure to Diagnose vs. Delayed Diagnosis
Some related medical errors that might also form the grounds for a medical malpractice claim include missed diagnoses, failures to diagnose, and delayed diagnoses. While a misdiagnosis occurs when the patient is incorrectly diagnosed with the wrong condition, a missed diagnosis occurs when the patient is told they do not have any health conditions when they do.
In some cases, a doctor might also fail to diagnose a patient’s related condition even though they correctly diagnosed the patient’s initial condition. This might occur when two conditions commonly co-occur, and the doctor fails to diagnose the second condition, leaving the patient without appropriate treatment for it.
A delayed diagnosis occurs when a patient does receive a correct diagnosis, but they are not diagnosed in a timely way. During the interim, the patient’s condition might have significantly worsened. For example, if a doctor fails to diagnose a patient’s breast cancer during its early stages, the patient might believe they are cancer-free and go about their lives for months. Even if the patient ultimately is diagnosed with breast cancer, their cancer may have progressed to an advanced stage by that time.
When Does a Misdiagnosis Amount to Medical Malpractice?
It can be difficult to diagnose patients. If a patient doesn’t present with typical symptoms or suffers from a rare condition, it can be harder for a doctor to correctly diagnose them. However, when a doctor misdiagnoses a patient who has a common condition when a reasonably competent physician with the same experience and training would have made an accurate diagnosis, a misdiagnosis might amount to medical malpractice. However, in a complex case involving a rare condition that a reasonably competent doctor with the same experience and training would not have accurately diagnosed, the patient would not have grounds to pursue a malpractice lawsuit.
Doctors are compared to other physicians in the same practice field who practice in the same geographic area when determining whether they have met the expected medical standard of care. If a doctor misdiagnosed you, but a reasonably competent doctor in the same field and the same area would have likely also made a misdiagnosis, you won’t have a valid claim. However, if your doctor misdiagnosed you when a reasonably competent doctor would not have made a similar mistake, you might have a viable malpractice case.
To have a valid malpractice claim for medical malpractice you must prove the following elements:
- You and the doctor had formed a doctor-patient relationship.
- The doctor had an expected medical standard of care.
- The care you received deviated or fell below what would have been expected of a reasonably competent doctor.
- The doctor’s negligence caused your injuries or worsened condition.
- You sustained calculable damages
You must be able to prove each of these elements to have a valid case.
What Are Some Common Causes of Misdiagnosis?
A misdiagnosis can result from multiple factors, but some of the most common causes include the following:
- Doctor’s failure to obtain or review the patient’s full, accurate medical history
- Not taking enough time for the diagnostic process
- Misinterpreting test results
- Ordering the wrong tests
- Failing to include all of the potential diagnoses when making a differential diagnosis
Commonly Misdiagnosed Health Conditions
When a medical condition is misdiagnosed, the patient might suffer serious injuries. Their condition might worsen because they didn’t receive the appropriate treatment on time, and they might also sustain additional injuries caused by receiving treatment for a condition they don’t have.
The following conditions are among the most commonly misdiagnosed:
- Bladder cancer
- Brain injuries
- Brain tumors
- Breast cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Colon cancer
- Heart attacks
- Lung cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Uterine cancer
Dangers of Misdiagnoses
Misdiagnoses can be dangerous because they can cause serious injuries from receiving unneeded treatment while prolonging the time before the patient’s true condition is treated. The delay can cause issues such as internal bleeding following a motor vehicle accident, irreversible brain damage after a stroke, or cancer that progresses to an advanced stage. When getting treatment for a condition the patient doesn’t have, it can result in unnecessary surgeries, taking unnecessary medications with dangerous side effects, and more. Unnecessary treatment can add to the dangers the patient already faces.
A misdiagnosis can cause harm to patients in numerous ways, including the following:
- Underlying condition goes untreated for a prolonged period
- Underlying condition worsens while not being addressed by the treatment plan
- Patient undergoes needless procedures (surgery, radiation, etc.)
- Patient receives unnecessary medication with dangerous side effects (chemotherapy, immunosuppressant drugs, etc.)
- Patient is permanently disfigured by unnecessary surgery
- Patient forced to undergo aggressive treatment when their condition is finally correctly diagnosed
- Patient’s underlying condition worsens and results in death
These are only a few examples of the types of harm patients might suffer because of a misdiagnosis. For a misdiagnosis to support a viable malpractice claim, it must have directly caused the plaintiff’s additional injuries and amount to medical negligence.
Who Can Be a Defendant in a Misdiagnosis Malpractice Lawsuit?
Doctors are the most common defendants in medical malpractice cases involving misdiagnoses, but other people can also be named if they were involved in the diagnostic process and committed negligence that contributed to the incorrect diagnosis. Some examples of others who might also be liable in a misdiagnosis claim include physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, radiologists, nurses, radiology technicians, and laboratory technicians. In some cases, the medical facility employing negligent professionals might be vicariously liable for the negligent actions of their employees.
Aspects to Consider
When you and your medical malpractice attorney in Philadelphia are determining whether you might have grounds to file a medical malpractice lawsuit following a misdiagnosis, your lawyer will assess several important factors. The first thing the lawyer will look at is the harm you suffered from the misdiagnosis. If you didn’t suffer any real harm, or only suffered minor injuries, the attorney will likely explain you don’t have sufficient grounds to pursue a claim. Even if you suffered minor injuries from which you quickly and fully recovered, the attorney might tell you that it’s not worthwhile to pursue a claim. This is because the cost of pursuing the claim might be higher than the potential recovery.
For example, imagine that your doctor misdiagnosed you with the common cold when you had early pneumonia. Since you felt like something more was going on than a cold, you went to see a different doctor, who properly diagnosed you with pneumonia and immediately started treatment. You made a complete recovery, and you didn’t have to be hospitalized. In this situation, you wouldn’t have a valid claim because you didn’t suffer real harm, or the harm you did suffer was minimal at best.
By contrast, imagine if your loved one went to the emergency department showing symptoms of a heart attack but was discharged after being diagnosed with heartburn. That night, your loved one suffered a massive heart attack that could have been prevented if they had been diagnosed when they went to the emergency department, and your loved one died. In this situation, your loved one’s family would likely have grounds to pursue a wrongful death medical malpractice claim based on the misdiagnosis in the emergency department.
A second, and highly important, issue your attorney will analyze is the doctor’s conduct and how it compares to the expected standard of care. The standard of care will vary since practitioners are compared to reasonably competent medical providers who practice in the same field, have similar levels of education and experience, and work in the same geographic area. Determining the relevant standard of care will require the attorney to consult with a medical expert. Once the standard of care is established, your lawyer will evaluate the provider’s conduct and determine whether it deviated from the standard of care under consultation with the medical expert.
For example, a family care doctor who misdiagnosed a patient’s cancer would be compared to other reasonably competent family care doctors in the same area and not with reasonably competent oncologists. If a reasonably competent family care doctor in the same area might have made the same error, the mistake wouldn’t amount to medical negligence. However, if the family care doctor referred the patient to an oncologist for additional tests, and the oncologist misdiagnosed the patient’s cancerous tumor as benign, the oncologist’s misdiagnosis might be considered a deviation from the expected standard of care for oncologists practicing in the area.
Proving Medical Malpractice
As previously discussed, the plaintiff has the burden of proving the legal elements of malpractice by a preponderance of the evidence. This burden of proof is lower than what is required of criminal prosecutors in criminal cases. The plaintiff won’t have to prove the elements beyond a reasonable doubt, but they will have to prove that each element more likely than not occurred as they stated.
Even though the burden of proof in medical malpractice cases is lower than in criminal matters, it’s still important to gather substantive evidence to prove each element. The experienced team of Philadelphia misdiagnosis attorneys works closely with medical experts to review medical records and build the strongest possible claims for our clients. We gather and review all relevant medical records and depose witnesses to understand the evidence and present a strong case. To help you prove your case, we will use medical experts who can testify about the standard of care, the errors made by the providers, and how they resulted in your injuries.
Your attorney will present evidence to show how the provider’s care violated the expected standard of care for reasonably competent practitioners in the same area and with a similar level of education, experience, and training given the specific treatment conditions.
They will then present evidence demonstrating how your misdiagnosis and the negligence of the provider caused your injuries. If your doctor misdiagnosed you, and you suffered injuries unrelated to the misdiagnosis, you won’t have a claim. Instead, the doctor’s medical error must have directly caused the injuries you suffered.
Finally, you and your lawyer will have to show evidence of your damages. These include both the out-of-pocket expenses that you sustained as a result of your additional injuries as well as the more intangible losses you suffered. You must be able to prove damages to recover compensation in a medical malpractice case.
Damages in a Misdiagnosis Malpractice Lawsuit
The damages you might be able to recover will depend on the specific facts of what happened to you and the losses that resulted. If you win your claim, you might be able to recover compensation for both your economic and non-economic losses.
Some of the types of economic damages that might be recoverable include the following:
- Past and future medical bills to treat your additional injuries or worsened condition
- Past lost wages caused by missing work because of your misdiagnosis and resulting injuries
- Diminished earning capacity
- Other out-of-pocket expenses
Some examples of non-economic damages that might be recoverable include the following:
- Past and future physical pain and suffering
- Past and future psychological and emotional trauma
- Reduced ability to enjoy life
In rare cases, punitive damages might be available. These are damages that might be awarded to punish the defendant instead of to compensate the plaintiff. Punitive damages are only awarded in cases in which the defendant’s conduct was particularly outrageous and generally aren’t available in most cases.
Under Pennsylvania law, there is no cap on the compensatory damages that might be recovered in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Your compensatory damages include your economic and non-economic losses but do not include any punitive damages. If you are awarded punitive damages, they will be capped at no more than two times the total of your compensatory damages.
Certificate of Merit Requirement in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania law has a special requirement for medical malpractice plaintiffs. You must have the medical records in your case reviewed by a medical expert. The expert must attest that the doctor’s care fell below the standard of care and caused your injuries. Within 60 days of filing the civil complaint, which is the legal document that commences a medical malpractice lawsuit, you must file a certificate of merit that certifies your case has been reviewed by your expert and that there is a reasonable likelihood that the misdiagnosis was caused by medical malpractice.
Statute of Limitations for Misdiagnosis Lawsuits
If you are thinking about filing a lawsuit for medical malpractice based on a misdiagnosis, you must be aware of the statute of limitations. This is a law that restricts the time within which a lawsuit can be filed. Under 42 Pa.C.S. § 5524, the general statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases is two years from the date of the injury. However, Pennsylvania has a discovery rule, which means the statute of limitations is tolled until the date you discovered the injury or reasonably should have discovered it. If you didn’t and couldn’t have discovered your injuries for some time after the malpractice occurred, the deadline clock will start to run from the date of discovery instead of the original date of injury.
Pennsylvania has a statute of repose that provides that plaintiffs in cases in which an injury could not have been reasonably discovered until a later date would have no more than seven years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the medical malpractice statute of repose was unconstitutional in Yanakos v. UPMC, 218 A.3d 1214 (2019). Depending on the facts of your case, this means that there might not be a deadline for filing your claim if you could not possibly have discovered your injury resulted from a misdiagnosis error until much later. However, if you could reasonably have discovered your injuries soon after the malpractice occurred, the two-year statute of limitations will apply and run from the date you should have discovered them.
There are two exceptions to the general statute of limitations, including one for minors and one for incapacitated people. If you were mentally incapacitated at the time your injury occurred, the statute of limitations will be tolled until the date your capacity was restored. You will then have two years from that date to file a lawsuit.
For minors who suffered injuries as a result of misdiagnoses, the statute of limitations will be tolled until they reach age 18. They will then have until they turn 20 to file a lawsuit. However, in many cases involving minors, their parents file lawsuits on their behalf while they are still children. Any compensation that is recovered will then be placed in trust by the court to pay for their care until they reach adulthood.
Contact a Medical Malpractice Lawyer in Philadelphia
If you were seriously injured because of a misdiagnosis, you might have grounds to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. To learn about your case and the legal options you might have, contact the Philadelphia misdiagnosis attorneys at Raynes & Lawn for a free consultation by calling 1-800-535-1797.