Medical malpractice refers to the negligence of a healthcare professional, resulting in the injury of a patient to whom they owe a duty of care. This definition includes doctors, psychiatrists, and many other types of healthcare workers, providers, and facilities.

Delayed diagnosis refers to a specific type of medical malpractice in which a medical professional, such as a doctor or physician, fails to properly diagnose a patient at an early stage when it was reasonably possible to do so. Although the patient may have eventually been diagnosed with the condition, by that point the patient may have unnecessarily suffered additional injuries and/or complications.

Under these circumstances, the doctor’s failure to diagnose may not have been the direct cause of the patient’s injuries or illness; however, a proper diagnosis could have prevented the patient from experiencing additional injury, or from the disease advancing to a more serious stage.

Delayed diagnosis is generally considered to be one part of overall medical misdiagnosis, as is incorrectly diagnosing a patient. In a common misdiagnosis, the physician may have identified something concerning in a patient; however, their diagnosis may have been incorrect. An example of this would be how they may have diagnosed the wrong condition, or they may have diagnosed the wrong part of the body. To compare, delayed diagnosis is generally associated with the doctor missing a diagnosis that they reasonably should have been able to detect.

A physician’s failure or delay in properly diagnosing a patient could justify legal action, under specific circumstances. An example of this would be if the misdiagnosis resulted in injury to the patient, or an unnecessary progression of the disease in question. Medical professionals are held to a considerably higher standard of care when compared to the standard of care required by other professions. Because of this, any deviation from those standards could result in them being held liable for medical malpractice.

To further clarify, failure to diagnose is another specific form of medical malpractice in which a doctor fails to take the proper steps in order to determine the nature of the patient’s medical concern. In short, they completely fail to properly diagnose and/or detect an existing condition. An example of this would be how the patient may be suffering from various symptoms, but the doctor fails to notice the connection between the presenting symptoms and the underlying condition.

Who Can Be Held Liable For Delayed Diagnosis Issues?

Medical malpractice liability refers to which persons and/or organizations should be liable for a patient’s injuries. Generally speaking, this would be the party who breached their duty of care and was the actual cause of the patient’s injuries. However, determining exactly who was liable can be considerably difficult, as medical malpractice liability frequently involves more than one party.

An example of this would be how it is possible to split medical malpractice liability between both a doctor and their nurse when their combined negligent conduct resulted in a patient’s injury. Such an example could occur if improper instructions were communicated between the parties involved, or if one medical professional failed to correct the other. Both parties may be held legally liable for their mistakes under such circumstances.

Additionally, a hospital organization or the like can be held liable for medical malpractice. This is especially true in cases involving a medical organization’s overall policy or quality of care for patients falling below the necessary duty of care standard.

Some common examples of parties who can be held liable for medical malpractice include, but may not be limited to:

  • General practitioners;
  • Nurses;
  • Hospitals;
  • Surgeons;
  • Dentists;
  • Psychiatrists;
  • Chiropractors;
  • Gynecologists; and
  • Clerical staff.

In the majority of cases associated with delayed diagnosis, the diagnosing physician can be held liable for injuries or losses which resulted from the delayed diagnosis. Under these circumstances, it is necessary to show that:

  1. The accused physician had a clear patient-doctor relationship with the patient;
  2. The doctor was negligent in their actions, and breached the duty of care they owed to their patient;
  3. The doctor’s negligence is what caused injury to the patient; and
  4. These injuries resulted in a quantifiable loss which could be remedied with a monetary damages award.

In terms of negligence, liability may be asserted if the plaintiff can prove that any other reasonable doctor who practices medicine in the same field would have made a diagnosis sooner. Additionally, some delayed diagnosis accidents may be further impacted by faulty or defective medical equipment. When this is the case, it could be possible for the manufacturer of that equipment to be held liable under a product defect theory.

Are There Any Legal Consequences For A Delayed Diagnosis?

A delayed diagnosis case would closely resemble that of a personal injury case. Personal injury claims involve a person suffering physical, mental, and/or emotional injuries, or property damages. When the injured party files a lawsuit, they are generally requesting some form of financial compensation from the responsible party. This compensation is also known as compensatory damages, as they are compensating the recipient for the injuries that they suffered.

Generally speaking, there are two types of compensatory damage awards. Special damages are intended to restore the injured party to the position they were before the harm or injury occurred. This includes damages that can be calculated, such as:

  • Medical expenses;
  • Property damage;
  • Loss of wages or earnings; and
  • Other quantifiable losses.

General damages may be awarded for losses that are not easily determined through monetary calculations, including losses associated with:

It is important to note that state laws vary. Some states place limits on compensatory damages, or damage caps, especially regarding general damages. What this means is that a plaintiff may recover a higher amount for the same exact injury in one state than a plaintiff who is suffering from the same harm in another state.

Some states prohibit damage caps in cases involving wrongful death lawsuits. As such, if a deceased patient’s family member files a wrongful death suit based on a medical malpractice claim in Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, or New York, they will not face restrictions on the amount of damages that they can receive in those states.

Delayed diagnosis lawsuits specifically are most commonly remedied with a monetary damages award. The award can compensate the plaintiff for losses such as:

  • Medical bills;
  • Hospital expenses;
  • Costs of additional treatment;
  • Medicine expenses; and
  • Other losses, such as lost work wages. In cases involving wrongful death, survivors of the plaintiff may also be entitled to damages.

In a product defect lawsuit, the product will likely be recalled, and a class action lawsuit can sometimes result. For cases involving widespread health and/or safety issues in a hospital organization, the hospital could be required to change their practices and policies, including termination of negligent employees. These measures are intended to prevent the responsible parties from committing future acts.

Do I Need A Lawyer For A Delayed Diagnosis?

If you believe you have a case against your doctor for a delayed diagnosis, you should consult with an experienced and local personal injury lawyer. An attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options under your state’s specific laws. An attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.