Medical Malpractice:

Failed or Erroneous Diagnosis and Treatment

When a doctor fails to correctly diagnose or treat a disease, there may be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit. One of the most important factors in determining if the case is "actionable" (legitimate grounds for a lawsuit) is if injury results. If no losses or medical malpractice damages occur as a result of the erroneous diagnosis or treatment (if the patient has not been harmed) there are no grounds for the lawsuit.

Determining the negligence of a doctor is based upon the standard of care. That is, did the doctor act in accordance with the expected behavior of a responsible, qualified doctor in the given situation? If a doctor failed to even consider the actual cause of the patient’s symptoms or dismissed it without sufficient testing, that behavior may qualify as negligence. However, a misdiagnosis arising from proper and reasonable action and care on the part of the doctor is most likely not medical malpractice.

Direct and Indirect Harm

Actionable injury can result from a failed diagnosis in two ways, which are not mutually exclusive: direct and indirect harm.

Direct harm occurs when a doctor incorrectly diagnoses a patient’s ailment, and the prescribed treatment (for example, prescription drug) causes direct harm to the patient, that patient likely has grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit. If a doctor correctly diagnoses a disease but elects to use an unproven method of treatment that proves harmful and/or unsuccessful, where a conventional treatment would likely have worked, this is also probably medical malpractice negligence. That is, a correct diagnosis followed by erroneous treatment, while not a common occurrence, is still malpractice.

Indirect harm is when the failure to correctly diagnose or the ignoring of symptoms results in a spreading or progression of the disease that could have been halted or at least delayed had the ailment been treated in a proper and timely manner. Establishing that timely treatment would result in a superior prognosis is sometimes difficult to prove because a disease can spread considerably before its symptoms become apparent.  An experienced medical malpractice lawyer knows the ways in which cases like this can be researched and what kinds of evidence will help the victim's case.