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A gavel and stethoscope on a tableA physician and hospital have a legal duty to a patient to promptly and accurately diagnose and treat the patient’s medical condition.  The duty requires the doctor and hospital to rule out any life threatening condition first (“the worst first”).

A medical malpractice lawsuit may stem from the misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis and treatment of a medical condition, illness or injury.  If a physician provides incorrect treatment, delayed treatment or no treatment at all, a patient’s condition can worsen or even lead to death.

In order to be successful in a claim where the misdiagnosis was due to neglect on the physician’s behalf or the diagnosis was delayed, a patient must prove the following:

  • A doctor/patient relationship existed;
  • The doctor neglected to quickly and accurately diagnose the patient’s condition and failed to provide prompt and appropriate treatment;
  • The doctor’s negligence prevented the patient from a substantial possibility of a cure or better outcome or prognosis.

Was the doctor at fault for misdiagnosing or delaying an accurate diagnosis of the patient?  Doctors are trained to engage in the process of “differential diagnosis,” which is a method used to identify a disease or condition in a patient.  After reviewing the patient’s complaints, medical history and physical examination, the doctor makes a list of diagnoses.  The doctor is trained to consider the strength of each potential diagnosis by making further medical observations of the patient, asking detailed questions about the patient’s symptoms and medical history and ordering diagnostic tests.  Sometimes the physician may refer the patient to another physician with specialized training.  The doctor will rule out or confirm potential diagnoses as the investigation process continues.

In a case where the misdiagnosis was due to a physician’s negligence, the patient must prove that a doctor in a similar specialty, under similar circumstances, would not have misdiagnosed the patient’s illness or condition.  The patient and his or her attorney must prove:

  • That the doctor did not include the correct diagnosis on the differential diagnosis list and a reasonably skillful doctor under similar circumstances would have done so; or
  • The doctor included the correct diagnosis on the differential diagnosis list but failed to rule out that diagnosis by failing to perform appropriate tests or seek opinions from a specialist.

Sometimes a doctor fails to correctly diagnose a condition because the doctor relied on inaccurate tests from a laboratory or radiology film.  This might occur because of inaccurate reading of a diagnostic film, defective equipment or an improperly performed test.

Lacy Katzen has represented its clients in negligent misdiagnosis cases involving various cancers (breast cancer, prostate cancer, kidney cancer, cancers of the neck and throat), heart attack, aneurysms, pulmonary embolism, and infectious disease.

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