Can You Sue For a Misdiagnosis?

by Leigh A. Morgan
Medical people working together on patient file, hospital office

When you seek medical care, you expect your doctor to conduct a thorough exam, order appropriate tests and make an accurate diagnosis. Unfortunately, medical mistakes occur every day. In fact, medical errors are one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

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One such error is misdiagnosis, which can subject you to unnecessary treatments or delay treatment for another illness. You can sue for a misdiagnosis, but it's important to seek advice from a licensed attorney before you do so.

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What Is a Misdiagnosis?

A misdiagnosis occurs when a doctor or other health care practitioner diagnoses you with a condition you don't have. For example, someone who goes to the emergency department with chest pain may be diagnosed with acid reflux instead of a heart attack.

Another example is when someone goes to the doctor complaining of a persistent cough. Their doctor may diagnose them with asthma or reactive airway disease when what they really have is lung cancer. In both cases, misdiagnosis has serious consequences. Patients receive treatment for conditions they don't have and miss out on the treatments they need to stabilize their health.

Can a Doctor Be Held Accountable for a Misdiagnosis?

Yes. If a doctor diagnoses you with the wrong medical condition, you can do the following:

  • File a complaint with their employer. Many facilities have patient advocates available to help you resolve problems with physicians and other practitioners.
  • Submit a complaint to your state's health department.
  • Complain to the doctor's licensing board. If the mistake is egregious enough, the licensing board may reprimand the doctor or even suspend their license.
  • File a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor in question.
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Can I Sue a Doctor Who Misdiagnosed Me?

Yes. You can file a lawsuit against the doctor who misdiagnosed you, their employer and anyone else who was involved in making the wrong diagnosis. If you plan to file a lawsuit, contact a medical malpractice attorney in your area. Many attorneys offer a free initial consultation to discuss the facts of your case and determine if you should file a lawsuit or pursue a different course of action.

A free consultation gives you a limited amount of time to present your case, so make sure you're prepared. Gather copies of your medical records, including images from X-rays, CT scans and other tests. If you've already started receiving bills from the doctor and/or hospital, bring them with you. Write down as much as you can about what happened and the impact the misdiagnosis has had on your life. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • Did the misdiagnosis prevent you from getting treatment for another injury or disease?
  • Did the delayed treatment cause complications? For example, did your cancer spread because it wasn't diagnosed correctly the first time?
  • Do you have to take daily medications or receive additional treatments due to the misdiagnosis?

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Is Misdiagnosis Malpractice?

Yes. Misdiagnosis is a form of medical malpractice, which is "any act or omission" that departs from the established standard of care.

How Long Do You Have to Sue for a Misdiagnosis?

Every state has a statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims. This is the maximum amount of time you have to file a lawsuit. Most states give you two years from the date you knew or should have known about the misdiagnosis. Some states have a limit of 30 months to three years. Ohio, Louisiana and Kentucky have the shortest statutes of limitations, giving you just one year to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Note that Tennessee, California and Maryland have different limits based on when the misdiagnosis occurred or when you discovered the misdiagnosis. Tennessee and California both give you three years after the misdiagnosis occurs, but you only have one year to file a lawsuit once you discover the misdiagnosis. Maryland gives you five years after the misdiagnosis or three years after you discover the misdiagnosis.

How Much Compensation Can You Get for a Medical Misdiagnosis Case?

The amount of compensation you can get for a misdiagnosis depends on several factors, including the consequences of the mistake. For example, if a misdiagnosis causes you to advance to the terminal stages of an illness, you may receive more compensation than you would if you just had to go to physical therapy for a few months. It also depends on whether you can continue working or caring for your family. A jury may award more if the misdiagnosis prevents you from earning income, caring for children or performing household chores.

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