Can You Sue a Doctor for the Wrong Diagnosis

Patient-doctor relationships are built on trust. However, when a medical professional breaks this trust due to negligence, the consequences can be severe. An incorrect diagnosis can affect a patient’s immediate and long-term health. But can a doctor or healthcare provider be sued and held legally responsible for a wrong diagnosis? We provide some answers below.

Understanding Medical Misdiagnosis

Medical misdiagnosis is the inaccurate identification of a medical condition that leads to improper treatment. They contribute to approximately 370,000 deaths each year. The following are negligent acts that can lead to misdiagnosis:

  • Misinterpreting symptoms
  • Overlooking/ignoring crucial information
  • Incorrect testing
  • Poor communication

An incorrect diagnosis can lead to a delay in treating the actual illness. It can also lead to unnecessary and harmful treatments for the patient. For instance,

  • A cancer misdiagnosis can lead to unnecessary chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
  • A misdiagnosis of chest pains as something other than a heart attack can cause permanent heart damage or even death.

According to a 2023 U.S. News and World Report article, nearly 795,000 Americans die or are permanently disabled annually due to misdiagnosed medical conditions.

Legal Options for Victims of Medical Misdiagnosis

So, can you sue a doctor for the wrong diagnosis? In Alabama, the answer is yes.

However, there are a number of factors that need to be considered before filing a medical malpractice lawsuit for a misdiagnosis.

Medical malpractice and wrongful death laws are put in place to protect victims of misdiagnosis. In Alabama, the Medical Liability Act allows patients harmed by healthcare provider negligence to pursue legal action. The U.S. Department of Health’s National Practitioner Data Bank reported 1,506 medical malpractice events in Alabama from January 2022 through September 2023.

To file a successful medical malpractice lawsuit, patients must prove that the healthcare provider owed them a duty of care, breached that duty, and caused harm as a result of the misdiagnosis.

Key Considerations of Pursuing Legal Action

A link between the misdiagnosis and the harm suffered by the patient must be established. Your ability to do these next three things is important to seeking legal assistance:

Proving Negligence

To prove negligence, you must demonstrate:

  1. A doctor-patient relationship existed
  2. That a failure to meet the standard of care for your condition occurred
  3. The failure to meet the standard of care caused injury.

Proving a Failure to Meet the Standard of Care

Proving a healthcare provider did not meet the standard of care is one of the more difficult hurdles. If your doctor followed the standard practice while examining your symptoms, it may be hard to hold them liable, even if they make a misdiagnosis.

Ultimately, your personal injury lawyer will need to prove that a reasonable healthcare provider would have done something different under the same circumstances as you in order to prove the standard of care was not met.

Proving the Delayed Diagnosis or Misdiagnosis Caused Injury

a doctor examines a patients xrays to avoid a misdiagnosis

If you successfully prove your doctor did not follow the standard practice, you must prove that their failure to provide appropriate care caused harm. This means you need to show that your injury was directly related to the substandard care, and not the initial injury or condition you initially sought medical treatment for.

For example, someone may go to the emergency room after a car accident, and the hospital fails to diagnose a fracture the patient sustained. In this instance, the patient must prove the delay in diagnosis itself caused serious injury, beyond the initial fracture they suffered from in the car accident.

Alternatively, there are instances in which the damages or injury caused by your initial misdiagnosis are so slight that it is difficult to pursue any type of claim.

For instance, in many cases, a patient will seek a second opinion shortly after the first encounter with a healthcare provider that they believe provided the wrong diagnosis. In those cases, the second healthcare provider may diagnose the condition correctly and provide the appropriate treatment. While this is beneficial to the patient’s health, it may make pursuing legal action for the initial misdiagnosis impossible.

Gathering Evidence

Valuable evidence for a medical misdiagnosis case includes records of medical bills, treatments, and witness statements related to the misdiagnosis.

For example, your medical bills and treatment history might reveal that your physician did not order all of the necessary tests to evaluate your symptoms. This could aid your case in proving that the standard of care was not met during your evaluation. However, it is important to note that healthcare providers do not have to perform every single test that might be useful. Instead, they have to do what is considered reasonable for the patient’s symptoms.

Expert Witnesses

You should identify other medical professionals who may have been present to support your claim of negligence and misdiagnosis.

The Role of Medical Malpractice Lawyers

Understanding the consequences of a wrong diagnosis empowers you to make informed decisions. Seeking legal advice gives you a great head start in navigating these cases.

In instances of a wrong diagnosis, your lawyer will:

  • Help you understand your rights as a victim.
  • Compile expert witness testimony. They might also get treatment histories from other doctors to show how your doctor’s conduct was not aligned with standard treatment.
  • Analyze medical records and previous cases of medical malpractice. They can use those records to come up with a strategy that helps you receive fair compensation for your injury.

Likewise, if you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, please contact the expert attorneys at Timberlake, League, and Brooks. We can help.