How a Misdiagnosis Can Cause Serious and Unnecessary Injuries

March 19, 2020 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
How a Misdiagnosis Can Cause Serious and Unnecessary Injuries

The Damage Caused by Misdiagnosed Cancer

Misdiagnoses happen more often than you might realize. The National Center for Policy Analysis estimates that ten to twenty percent of medical cases are misdiagnosed. This is higher than the number of medication errors or surgeries on the wrong patient or body part but those errors receive much more attention. Even a simple misdiagnosis can leave a patient in life-threatening condition. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a misdiagnosis, it is important to protect your legal rights by consulting with an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible.

When are Misdiagnoses Most Likely to Occur?

Misdiagnoses are more likely to occur when a patient has a rare disease or a disease which presents itself atypically:

  • Heart attacks can present very differently in different patients. Women, for example, are less likely to have the classic symptom of chest pain. Some patients may feel a crushing sensation while others describe it as indigestion or heartburn. With so many ways to experience the same condition, it can be difficult to accurately diagnose a heart attack.
  • Celiac disease is another disease with inconsistent presentations. It can come with joint pain and headaches, or with abdominal pain and constipation. Sometimes it has no identifying symptoms at all. Celiac disease is most often misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Fibromyalgia is characterized by non-specific symptoms such as muscle pain, fatigue, anxiety, and insomnia. It is commonly mistaken for rheumatic diseases such as arthritis and lupus. Chronic fatigue syndrome and mental health disorders are other common misdiagnoses.
  • Thyroid conditions also present with general symptoms such as weakness fatigue, and weight fluctuations. This, too, makes it a prime candidate for being misdiagnosed as a mental health disorder.

One study found that doctors faced with “difficult” patients were more likely to misdiagnose their diseases. This presents the patient with a dilemma: do I stay polite and let the doctor misdiagnose me, or do I challenge him or her until they get it right? Always be polite to your doctor, but listen to your body, and don't be afraid to speak up when you aren't responding to treatment.

What Types of Legal Injuries Can Result from a Misdiagnosis?

When a misdiagnosis leads to reduced survival rates, the decreased life expectancy is a compensable injury. This occurs most often with cancer diagnoses: because malignant tumors grow so quickly, delays in diagnosing and treating them can drastically decrease a patient's chance of survival. Delays can also force cancer patients to undergo more invasive or painful treatment options (ie, surgical removal or chemotherapy) than they otherwise would have. This, too, is a compensable injury.

In some horrific cases, a misdiagnosis can actually spread malignant cancers. This is what happened to Dr. Amy Reed. Dr. Reed – an anesthesiologist and mother of six children – was diagnosed with uterine fibroids. She underwent what was supposed to be a simple surgery to remove her uterus. Only after the surgery did doctors realized that her uterus contained a malignant tumor, which had been cut by the tool used to perform the procedure. Malignant cancer cells were sprayed throughout her abdominal cavity, and the “simple surgery” left Dr. Reed with Stage Four cancer. She passed away in May 2017 – less than four years after her initial surgery.

Your legal injuries from a misdiagnosis do not have to be caused by your treating physician. Treating physicians rely on diagnostic data from radiologists, pathologists, and other types of doctors. If your doctor gives you an inappropriate treatment because of bad information he or she received, the pathologist or radiologist can be liable for malpractice. Your treating physician may also be liable for malpractice if he or she was unreasonable in relying on the faulty data without confirming the diagnosis.

Misdiagnosis does not only cause medical injuries. Dentists, mental health professionals, and other licensed care providers are also legally responsible for meeting a standard of care when treating their patients. They must act as a reasonably prudent provider in similar circumstances. If they do not, your dental or mental health condition can deteriorate as a result, and you may be entitled to compensation for that damage.

When a patient dies as the result of medical malpractice, his or her estate retains the claim for medical malpractice. Surviving relatives may also have separate claims for wrongful death and loss of consortium, which are separate legal injuries that are also compensable.

What Should I Do After a Misdiagnosis?

First, and most importantly, you must get any necessary treatment for both your original condition and any effects of your misdiagnosis. Get second (and third, and fourth) opinions as necessary.

Consult with an attorney as soon as possible. All medical malpractice claims are subject to statutes of limitation, and the clock starts ticking as soon as you discover a misdiagnosis. An experienced attorney will not only ensure that your malpractice claim is handled correctly and that you receive all compensation to which you are entitled, but he or she will also relieve you of the stress and inconvenience of handling the claim so that you can focus on healing from your injuries and misdiagnosis.

Your attorney will also help you identify what evidence is needed to support your claim. This may include doctor's notes, hospital records, pharmacy records, x-rays, consultation reports, etc. You should keep any documentation related to the incident until the case is resolved. You should also make sure you know where to find the documents that aren't readily available to you (such as the hospital records department).

Contact an Experienced Florida Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

If you or a loved one has been misdiagnosed by any professional – whether medical, dental, mental health, or other types of care – contact the Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA today. Our Clearwater personal injury attorneys have extensive experience in aggressively pursuing malpractice claims, and our professional staff provides the personalized service you need during this difficult time. Call our office at (727) 451-6900 to schedule your free consultation.


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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