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The Relationship Between Delayed Diagnosis and Medical Malpractice

On Behalf of | Mar 19, 2022 | Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice happens when people are at their weakest. Patients trust that their doctors will provide the care and treatment they need. Unfortunately, there are times when a doctor fails to provide appropriate or even adequate care. Perhaps most doctors would have provided better and more thorough care under the same circumstances. Under these circumstances, you may have a medical malpractice case.

The types of medical malpractice cases range from a doctor leaving an instrument inside a patient during surgery to a doctor ignoring problematic blood work. If you believe that your doctor failed to diagnose you with a medical condition, you may have a delayed diagnosis malpractice case.

What Is a Delayed Diagnosis?

Delayed diagnosis is when a doctor fails to diagnose you with a medical condition within a reasonable time. For a delayed diagnosis malpractice lawsuit to be valid, the delay in diagnosis must result from the medical professional’s failure or negligence.

Types of delayed diagnosis can range. Some examples of delayed diagnosis may include:

  • A patient reports concerning symptoms to a doctor. The doctor ignores them, does not order testing, and does not refer them to a specialist.
  • A patient’s blood work indicates problems, but the doctor does not treat the issue or advise the patient of any treatment.
  • The patient reports a lump, but the doctor doesn’t send them for testing. The lump turns out to be a tumor.
  • A patient reports troubled breathing to the doctor, and the doctor doesn’t X-ray the lungs. Later, the patient goes to the emergency room and is diagnosed with pneumonia.

If a patient does not tell the doctor the symptoms they are experiencing, the patient cannot then turn around and file a delayed diagnosis malpractice lawsuit. Additionally, if a doctor takes reasonable steps to diagnose the patient, such as asking questions, ordering additional testing, or referring the patient to specialists, it is unlikely that this would amount to a delayed diagnosis medical malpractice case.

When Is It Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice cases can be challenging to understand and to prove. Not every mistake a doctor or medical professional makes amounts to malpractice under the law. Plus, there are additional considerations when showing the relationship between a delayed diagnosis and medical malpractice. Generally, to demonstrate that a delayed diagnosis amounts to medical malpractice in Tennessee, you must prove several legal elements. These elements are described below.

First Element: The Medical Professional Owed A “Duty of Care” to the Patient

The first element to prove a delayed diagnosis medical malpractice claim is that the health care provider owed you a duty of care. Medical professionals owe their patients a duty of care.  There must be a relationship between the patient and the medical professional to establish that they owed a duty to the patient. An example of this would be a doctor-patient relationship.

Second Element: The Medical Professional Breached the Duty of Care

The next element you must prove for a medical malpractice claim is that the medical provider breached their duty of care—they did not provide the same level of care as other similar medical providers. Essentially, a patient will need to prove that this health care provider did not do what most other health care providers would have done under the same or similar circumstances.

An example of this would be if a patient came to a doctor’s office with what they suspect to be a tick bite. Rather than testing the person for Lyme disease, the doctor just sends them on their way with a topical cream. However, most doctors in the area routinely screen their patients for Lyme disease and treat them for Lyme when they present with a suspected tick bite. This doctor’s failure to screen and treat the patient may breach the standard of care.

Expert witnesses are usually needed for a patient to prove the medical standard of care that should apply in their case. Expert witnesses are typically doctors or medical professionals in the same field. Under Tennessee law, the medical professional must be licensed in the state or a neighboring state for at least one year before the wrongful conduct to be an expert witness.

Third Element: The Breach Caused the Patient Harm

The next element to prove is that the breach caused the patient some harm. The Tennessee medical malpractice statute describes harm as “loss, injury, death or damage.” Examples of harm caused by a delayed diagnosis include:

  • Larger medical expenses,
  • Lost wages,
  • Pain and suffering,
  • Mental anguish, and
  • Loss of enjoyment of your life.

In addition, the harm must be reasonably foreseeable, meaning it cannot be tangential or unrelated harm. The harm must be something one would typically expect as a result of the medical provider breaching their duty. An experienced medical negligence attorney can help you understand and quantify the legal definition of harm caused by a delayed diagnosis.

Time Limit for a Delayed Diagnosis Malpractice Lawsuit

Every legal claim has a specific filing deadline called the statute of limitations. If you do not file by the deadline, you cannot proceed with your case, even if it is strong. Generally, you must file your Tennessee medical malpractice case within one year of the alleged wrongful action or negligence.

In cases of delayed diagnosis, a patient may not be aware of a doctor’s negligence right away. Suppose you don’t discover your injury within that first year. In that case, you can file a claim within one year of your discovery of the injury so long as the case is still brought within three years from the date of the doctor’s negligence.

If you believe you experienced delayed diagnosis medical malpractice, consult with an attorney immediately so that you don’t miss any filing deadlines.

Compensation for Delayed Diagnosis and Medical Malpractice Cases

You may be eligible for compensation for a delayed diagnosis case. In Tennessee, you can recover both economic and noneconomic damages.

Economic damages include:

  • Lost wages,
  • Medical expenses, and
  • The cost of mental health treatment.

Economic damages are usually pretty straightforward to quantify and calculate.

Noneconomic damages, on the other hand, are more difficult to calculate. They include:

  • Pain and suffering,
  • Emotional distress, and
  • The loss of enjoyment of everyday activities.

Your attorney may contact your mental health professional to help determine your noneconomic damages. Proving that you spent money on medical treatment is more straightforward than proving that the delayed diagnosis caused you mental anguish. An experienced medical negligence lawyer can help you with this assessment.

If the medical provider acted particularly badly, you might also seek punitive damages. Punitive damages are damages that punish the wrongdoer. Tennessee courts may award punitive damages if you prove that the medical provider acted recklessly, maliciously, intentionally, or fraudulently.

Figuring out how much and what type of compensation you may be entitled to in a delayed diagnosis case can be challenging. For this reason, you should discuss the details of your claims with an experienced lawyer.

Hire an Experienced Delayed Diagnosis Medical Negligence Attorney

If you are considering bringing a delayed diagnosis medical malpractice case against a health care provider, then you have already been through the wringer. You need an experienced medical negligence lawyer to rely on during this stressful time. The lawyers at Batson Nolan PLC are experienced litigators who have represented many clients in medical malpractice cases in Tennessee. We can help. Call us for a consultation.