Of all the injuries a person can sustain, brain injuries are among the most dangerous. Time is of the essence in treating these types of injuries. Delays in diagnosis – or misdiagnosis – can severely impair a patient’s prognosis: more brain damage can be sustained, recovery periods can be greater, brain functioning can be permanently impaired, and in the worst case scenario, a patient’s lifespan can be shorted by a misdiagnosed brain injury.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of a misdiagnosed brain injury, you have legal rights which must be protected during the long and difficult road to recovery. The Dolman Law Group protects injury victims in St. Petersburg and southern Florida. Our experienced medical malpractice attorneys will file claims, negotiate settlements, and litigate as necessary to ensure that you are fully and fairly compensated for the injuries you have sustained.
The Prevalence and Severity of Brain Injuries in Florida
Brain injuries affect many Floridians every year. According to the Florida Department of Health, 2012 saw a total of 3,798 deaths as a result of traumatic brain injuries. An additional 18,922 hospitalizations occurred in 2012 as a result of traumatic brain injuries.
Both traumatic brain injuries (caused by some form of trauma to the head) and non-traumatic brain injuries (caused by factors in the body, such as low glucose, low oxygen, poor blood circulation, infection, etc.) vary widely in degrees of severity. On the low side, there are minor concussions which result in few – if any – observable cognitive impairments. On the severe side, brain injuries can result in loss of consciousness, amnesia, coma, and in the most severe instances, death.
The severity of a traumatic brain injury is measured by:
- The length of the patient’s loss of consciousness
- The length of amnesia during the injury
- Whether brain imaging results are normal or abnormal.
Based on these findings, a patient’s traumatic brain injury is classified as mild, moderate or severe. Severe traumatic brain injuries are further classified as a coma (the patient cannot be awakened from unconsciousness); a vegetative state (the patient is not in a coma but not aware of their environment); a persistent vegetative state (the vegetative state has lasted more than one month); or a minimally responsive state (the patient is not in a coma or vegetative state and inconsistently interacts with his or her environment).
When is a Misdiagnosis Medical Malpractice?
Florida law requires doctors to treat their patients with due care. This is measured against the standard of the “reasonably prudent doctor” in similar circumstances. Thus, if your doctor misdiagnoses your brain injury, but the reasonably prudent doctor would not have, your doctor is negligent, and has committed malpractice.
It is important to note that not all misdiagnoses are malpractice. In certain cases, even the hypothetical “reasonably prudent doctor” would not have correctly diagnosed the brain injury. This is particularly common when a patient has an unusual presentation of brain injury (such as inconsistent symptoms). Uncommon genetics and other factors can also make it difficult for a doctor to properly diagnose a brain injury. In any case, a physician must meet his or her legal standard of care. This may include:
- Performing neurological functioning exams
- Ordering diagnostic imaging (x-rays, CT scans, magnetic resonance imaging, etc.)
- Consulting with a neurologist, neuropathologist, neuropsychiatrist, or other neurological professional
- Extended monitoring of a patient’s neurological status after an injury
- Ordering rehabilitative services (such as vocational, occupational, or speech therapy)
Not all of these services or treatments may be necessary for every patient. No two brain injuries are the same, and a doctor cannot treat every patient with the same diagnostic and therapeutic tools. When determining whether your treatment fell below the acceptable standard of care, a court will determine what the reasonably prudent doctor would have done in similar circumstances.
What Are Compensable Injuries From a Misdiagnosis?
There are many, many losses which can result from a brain injury. The amount of the losses you sustained from a misdiagnosis is known as your “legal damages”. These commonly include such expenses as:
- Medical bills
- Rehabilitative expenses, mental health treatment, etc.
- Lost wages (including any decreased future earning potential that is attributable to your misdiagnosed brain injury)
- There are also less common expenses which may also be attributable to your misdiagnosis.
Increased pain and suffering: Any pain and suffering that is directly attributable to your diagnosis can be compensated in a medical malpractice lawsuit. For example: what if it took longer for you to receive the appropriate pain management medications because you had been misdiagnosed? This would demonstrate that your pain and suffering was increased as a direct result of the misdiagnosis.
Increased pain and suffering can also occur when a more serious treatment has to be used because of the misdiagnosis. If, for example, a patient had a small blood clot in the brain, it might be possible to treat it with blood thinning medication. If, however, the diagnosis was delayed and the blockage became worse, as a result, that patient may now have to undergo surgery in order to clear the blockage and prevent a stroke. The surgery caused more pain and suffering than the blood thinning medication alone. A doctor who negligently misdiagnosed the brain injury would then be responsible for compensating the patient for the pain and suffering of the surgery.
Decreased lifespan: In very serious cases, a patient’s life expectancy may decrease as a direct result of his or her brain injury being misdiagnosed. The brain needs a constant supply of oxygen. The longer it is deprived of oxygen, the more brain damage will occur. A misdiagnosis can, therefore, cause permanent brain damage – or even death – that would not otherwise have occurred.
Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorneys will Aggressively Pursue Your Personal Injury Claim
The victims of misdiagnosis have legal rights under Florida law to be compensated for their injuries. The Dolman Law Group has decades of experience in protecting the rights of injury victims in and around the Clearwater area. Call (727) 451-6900 to schedule your free consultation with an experienced, aggressive medical malpractice attorney. Our friendly, professional staff offers the personalized service you need during this difficult time.