Can you sue a doctor for misdiagnosis? The short answer is yes, you can, under the right circumstances. However, as with almost any legal question, the full answer is considerably more complex and nuanced. Ultimately, a misdiagnosis claim is a medical malpractice claim. You must prove four legal elements to win, as the claim will hinge on whether the doctor was medically negligent.
Element #1: Duty
The most basic element in a medical malpractice claim is duty. You must have established a doctor-patient relationship with your doctor, for example. Normally, proving this much is routine. However, it might become an issue if you met a doctor at a bar, and the doctor speculated as to the cause of your condition while you shared drinks.
A doctor’s duty extends beyond the mere establishment of a doctor-patient relationship. The exact nature of the doctor’s duty depends on the factual circumstances as well as on the doctor’s training and degree of specialization. Your doctor might have had a duty to use the differential diagnosis method, for example.
Element #2: Breach of Duty
A serious error might constitute a breach of the doctor’s duty as a medical professional – in other words, medical negligence. Not all medical errors amount to medical negligence, however. The legal system permits doctors to make human errors without liability. You might need a medical expert witness to testify to whether a given medical error amounted to medical malpractice. That the defense can call its own expert witnesses, leaving it to the jury to decide the issue.
Failure to Use the Differential Diagnosis Method
Different conditions often produce similar symptoms. Covid-19, for example, often produces flu-like symptoms. Doctors generally use the differential diagnosis method to arrive at the correct diagnosis.
Using the differential diagnosis method, the doctor will generate a list of conditions that might be responsible for your symptoms. The doctor will then test all candidates to eliminate incorrect diagnoses. Ideally, only one candidate will remain, and that will be the correct diagnosis.
If your doctor failed to use the differential diagnosis method or performed it incorrectly, they might have committed medical negligence.
Your misdiagnosis might have occurred because your doctor relied upon faulty laboratory test results. In this case, the lab technician, rather than your doctor, might have been the negligent party.
Faulty Medical Equipment
Another possible reason for your misdiagnosis is defective medical equipment. Perhaps the X-ray machine malfunctioned, for example. You might need to sue the medical device manufacturer in a product liability lawsuit instead of filing a medical malpractice claim against your doctor.
Element #3: Damages
To win a medical malpractice claim, you must prove that you suffered damages (harm). You must suffer physical harm. Experiencing emotional distress due to a false cancer diagnosis is not enough to support a medical malpractice claim, although it might be enough to support a claim for “negligent infliction of emotional distress.”
Sometimes, however, misdiagnosis can cause great harm by delaying the diagnosis of the real illness as it grows ever more serious. You might even die from a misdiagnosis. If a patient with a personal injury claim dies from medical negligence, the deceased patient’s estate executor can file a wrongful death claim.
Element #4: Causation
No matter how much harm you suffered and how negligent your doctor may have been, you cannot win a medical malpractice claim unless your doctor’s negligence actually caused the harm you suffered. The harm you suffered must be closely related to your doctor’s negligence.
Suppose, for example, that your doctor mistakenly diagnosed you with a minor ailment when your real condition was cancer. If your cancer was already untreatable by the time your first symptoms developed, then your doctor’s misdiagnosis did not cause the harm you suffered. Without causation, you have no medical malpractice claim.
Seek Legal Advice
If you have suffered harm from a medical misdiagnosis, remember this much – you almost certainly cannot handle a medical malpractice claim on your own. You are going to need a medical malpractice lawyer. You will also probably need at least one medical expert witness. Your lawyer will be able to help you with all aspects of your case.