Can I Bring a Claim Against a Doctor for Misdiagnosis?

When we fall ill, we visit one or more doctors for diagnostic testing. The waits can be long, the chairs can be uncomfortable, and the face time with the doctor can be short and stressful.

But we attend these appointments in good faith so that the doctors will accurately tell us what is wrong. Doctors, on the other hand, work incredibly long hours, often on their feet, in order to treat as many patients as possible. They intend to do what is right for their patients, but sometimes they make mistakes, and a missed, or delayed diagnosis can be the result. It is rare, but it happens more often than most people think.

A study released in 2013 by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that diagnostic errors comprised 35% of the $38.8 billion paid out for medical malpractice claims in America in the last 25 years. Dr. David Newman-Toker, one of the study’s authors, states, “these are the most common and the most costly of all malpractice claims. We have to pay attention to this because it is too big of a problem to ignore.” Indeed, reports show that 15% to 26% of patients may receive an incorrect diagnosis during their lifetimes, and in the case of some rare cancers, the misdiagnosis rate can be as high as 44%.

Is There Harm?

Perhaps surprisingly, even if a doctor misdiagnoses an illness, it is not always considered malpractice. A patient must prove there was harm, and in order for it to be considered malpractice, there has to be clear proof the missed or delayed diagnosis in and of itself caused the harm. Elements of this should include:

  • Your physician misdiagnosed, or failed to diagnose, a condition in a timely manner that most physicians with the same qualifications would catch.
  • The delayed diagnosis of your condition caused you or a loved one harm. For example, cancer or another serious disease progressed to a more serious stage due to a delayed diagnosis, causing damage, injury, or even death for the patient.
  • The harm or injury was directly caused by the mistake in diagnosis by the doctor. If a correct diagnosis had been made, and treatment had begun more quickly, you would not have suffered additional injury or harm.

If you believe these factors apply to your situation, you may have the basis for a malpractice case against your doctor or medical practitioner. However, it is important to seek legal advice as soon as the harm from potential malpractice is discovered, as there is a statute of limitations on filing malpractice suits in Louisiana. Malpractice suits should be filed within one year from the date of the misdiagnosis or within one year after the misdiagnosis is realized by the patient or family members. However, the malpractice claim must be filed within three years from the date of the misdiagnosis.

Precautionary Measures

Since medicine is such a specialized field, it may feel impossible for a lay person to do anything to avoid or mitigate the effects of a misdiagnosis. While a patient should not feel responsible for catching errors, there are certain steps that can enable you to advocate for yourself, and can also aid you in a medical malpractice case by helping you compile information.

The most important step is to communicate effectively with your healthcare provider from the outset. Share your symptoms and diagnostic concerns, and ask probing questions. If the situation is not resolved, it is reasonable to seek a second opinion. When dealing with medical clinics or hospitals, remember malpractice can also be committed by other healthcare practitioners, including nurses and therapists. Be sure to take note of everyone involved in your care.

In Summary

Missed or delayed diagnosis cases make up approximately one-third of all medical malpractice payouts in America. However, a misdiagnosis is only considered malpractice if it is the direct cause of harm. It is imperative for patients to advocate on their own behalf by communicating effectively, and seeking a second opinion, if it feels warranted. However, this may not be enough to avoid a misdiagnosis. If you believe you are the victim of medical malpractice, seek advice from a trusted attorney as soon as possible to avoid statute of limitations issues.

Schedule a Consultation Today

Nelson & Hammons is committed to providing expert legal advise and representation to those injured through medical misdiagnosis. We consider it an honor to be chosen as your legal representative. Please contact us for a free consultation on your case by calling (318) 277-2401or by scheduling a consultation online today.