Q: Can you sue a doctor for misdiagnosis?
Yes, you can sue a doctor for misdiagnosis, if the misdiagnosis violated the standard of reasonable care and resulted in quantifiable harm. Misdiagnosis by itself is not automatic grounds for a lawsuit.
What is the standard of reasonable care for purposes of medical malpractice?
GA Code § 51-1-27 requires anyone who practices medicine to use a “reasonable degree of skill and effort.” Anyone injured as a result of the medical professional’s failure to exercise the required level of care and skill can sue to recover damages.
Doctors are not expected to cure every medical condition, but they are required to meet the standard of reasonable care when they treat you. They should give your medical condition the attention it deserves, run the appropriate tests, interpret the results accurately, and prescribe the correct treatment. If they do not, they may be liable for any harm that results.
When can I sue a doctor for misdiagnosis?
As we stated above, you can only sue a doctor if quantifiable harm results from a misdiagnosis.
Quantifiable harm is damage that can be measured, usually in dollars. Consider the following example: Maggie was admitted to the hospital for evaluation of her extreme fatigue. Her primary care doctor ran some tests and told Maggie that the test results indicated that she had leukemia. Later that day, her doctor went over Maggie’s test results again and realized he had misinterpreted her blood work, and she did not have leukemia. He immediately went to her hospital room and told her the good news. Although Maggie was relieved to not have leukemia, she was outraged at her doctor’s mistake.
Because Maggie did not suffer any physical harm as a result of the misdiagnosis, she did not have a malpractice case against her doctor. No adverse actions were taken and there were no negative medical consequences to Maggie as a result of the incorrect diagnosis.
However, if Maggie’s doctor had not realized his mistake until a later date, and Maggie had undergone chemotherapy, Maggie could sue for the financial, emotional, and physical costs of the treatment.
Is misdiagnosis the same thing as failure to diagnose?
No. Misdiagnosis is when a person has one medical condition but is incorrectly diagnosed with a different medical condition. Failure to diagnose occurs when a doctor misses the signs of a medical condition and does not diagnose a person’s medical condition.
For example, Don had a stroke. He went to his doctor immediately, complaining of a severe headache, dizziness, and blurred vision. Without running any tests, his doctor misdiagnosed him as merely having a migraine headache. Because Don’s condition did not improve, he went to the emergency room two days later. The emergency room immediately ran the proper tests, discovered the stroke and began treatment. As a result of the misdiagnosis, there was delay in treatment, causing Don to suffer permanent paralysis and speech impairment.
This is different from failure to diagnose. For example, Mary went to the emergency room complaining of severe pain on the right side of her lower abdomen, along with nausea and vomiting. She had a low-grade fever. The emergency room doctor did a thorough physical exam and ordered all the standard tests for appendicitis, including blood work, urinalysis, and an abdominal x-ray.
All the test results indicated that Mary had appendicitis, but her doctor accidentally looked at the wrong file and did not diagnose the appendicitis. Instead of having the needed treatment, which would be to have her inflamed appendix removed, Mary was sent home with pain pills. During the night, her appendix ruptured. She later died from peritonitis, an infection throughout her abdomen, caused by the ruptured appendix. Her death was a direct result of the emergency room doctor’s failure to diagnose.
Are there special rules for suing a doctor in Georgia?
Yes. In fact, if you want to a medical professional for malpractice in Georgia, including medical doctors, you must jump through extra hoops. O.C.G.A. § 9-11-9.1 requires you to file an affidavit with your complaint when you file a medical malpractice lawsuit against a doctor.
The affidavit must be from an expert who is competent to testify about the area of medicine your doctor practices. The expert must swear in the affidavit that at least one act or omission of your doctor was negligent, and must lay out the facts of such a claim.
Call a medical malpractice lawyer today.
A medical malpractice claim can be immensely complicated, but you do not need to go through it alone. If you have been harmed or someone in your family has died as a result of medical malpractice, call a medical malpractice lawyer at the Law Office of Jason R. Schultz, P.C. today at 404-474-0804 for your free consultation.