Colorado Attorneys
Gerash Steiner, P.C. Featuring More Than 40 Years of Trial Experience

Can I Sue the Doctor for Misdiagnosis?

After suffering an injury or illness, obtaining the right medical care typically depends on initially getting the correct diagnosis. Unfortunately, a significant number of medical malpractice lawsuits derive from the misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, or lack of diagnosis of a medical condition.

Misdiagnosis may involve the following actions:

  • Failure to screen for a specific medical condition
  • Failure to refer a patient to a specialist
  • Failure to adequately address the patient’s symptoms
  • Failure to properly follow up and investigate possible symptom causes which are reported
  • Misinterpret lab test results

When a physician’s diagnosis error results in incorrect treatment, delayed treatment or no treatment whatsoever, a patient’s condition may worsen--even prove fatal. If a patient suffers harm due to a doctor’s misdiagnosis, he/she may pursue a legal remedy by filing a medical malpractice lawsuit.

In order to succeed in a medical malpractice lawsuit, the patient--with the help of his/her personal injury lawyer--must establish the following elements:

  • A relationship between a doctor and a patient existed
  • The doctor was negligent by failing to adequately diagnose the patient
  • Actual harm to the patient was caused by the doctor’s failure to properly diagnose

The most difficult point to prove is the second element--whether or not the physician’s inability to properly diagnose the patient elevated to the level of medical negligence. Keep in mind, just because a disease or any other harmful health problem wasn’t detected in a timely manner doesn’t mean that the doctor is automatically considered negligent.

The important question is whether, in failing to determine a right and timely diagnosis, the doctor also failed to act within the scope of reasonable care that any skilled physician would have demonstrated under the circumstances. While there are diagnostic errors that any doctor would likely have committed, those that are unreasonable mistakes in diagnosis are the basis of a medical malpractice claim.

Whether the doctor adhered to the standard of care will most likely require an expert opinion. The expert--often a fellow physician--will examine the defendant doctor’s differential diagnosis method. When attempting to diagnose a patient, a physician creates a list of diagnoses in order of probability and examines them by asking the patient questions, making further observations or ordering tests. The purpose is to eliminate diagnoses until there is only one remaining. In a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff or expert witness must show that the doctor either did not include the correct diagnosis on the list--and that a competent physician would have included it--or listed the correct diagnosis but failed to administer to proper tests to determine the right one by the end of the differential diagnosis method.

Another challenging element to prove is causation. A plaintiff must demonstrate that the misdiagnosis resulted in the injury worsening more than it would have had the right diagnosis been initially made. This means, for instance, that a patient will need to show that a delayed cancer diagnosis led to the patient’s wrongful death. By contrast, the patient would have lived longer if the illness had been caught at the correct time by the defendant physician.

Due to the complexities of a medical malpractice case, it is best to consult your case with an experienced attorney. A medical malpractice lawyer can review the facts of the case and explore all of your available legal options.

Contact our Denver personal injury lawyer at Gerash Steiner, P.C. for more information today.