Failure to Diagnose – Top Reason Patients Take Action Against Doctors for Medical Malpractice | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

A recent study revealed that the most common reason patients take legal action against their doctors is a delay or failure to diagnose a disease, like cancer, diabetes, or appendicitis.  The study, which was composed of medical malpractice claims in the U.S., France, Canada and Australia, discovered that between 26 percent and 63 percent of medical negligence claims were connected to a missed diagnosis, according to

Which diagnosis was most commonly missed? The study reports various types of cancer were missed frequently, including breast cancer, colon cancer, melanoma and lung cancer. In addition to cancer, failure to diagnose a heart attack and meningitis in children were other bases for medical malpractice claims.

Hopefully a better understanding for the motivations behind a medical malpractice lawsuit can help doctors identify common scenarios that may result in missed diagnosis or improper diagnosis. Doctors can also use this data to put systems into place that can help reduce the number of errors.

Our firm is familiar with this type of medical malpractice. For example,  we represented the estate of a 56-year-old retired FBI agent who went to his family doctor with a 3-day history of chest pains that were so bad, the pain radiated into his jaw, along with intermittent visual disturbance. Our client’s family physician claimed that he referred our client to the emergency room with a provisional diagnosis of impending vascular accident. Nevertheless, the emergency room physician diagnosed our client with nothing more than a sore throat and denied receiving a report from the family physician of an impending vascular accident. The emergency room physician released our client from the emergency room with an appointment with an ENT doctor and conducted no diagnostic tests. Only a few days later, our client was dead. He suffered a dissecting aortic aneurysm.  An autopsy determined that the dissection was between 3 and 6 days old, which means it could have been diagnosed and treated, if only the proper diagnosis was made.

Our firm took on the case and filed a claim against both the family doctor and emergency room doctor. As is common with medical malpractice cases, we did not reach an agreeable settlement and had to take the case all the way to a jury trial. The case was argued in front of a jury in a Suffolk, Virginia Circuit Court. The jury returned a $700,000 verdict against the emergency room physician.