Families often come to bear the burden of exorbitant, unnecessary medical expenses, while their loved ones suffer through the severe pain caused by inappropriate treatment methods. Emotional distress, fear and anxiety become ordinary, an affliction felt every day and borne equally by loved ones and patients alike. Many misdiagnosed cancer patients are consumed by anger and frustration, if they ever even learn the truth. That anger is often entirely justified.
Is Cancer Misdiagnosis Medical Malpractice?
In many cases, yes.
In fact, misdiagnosis is the leading cause of medical malpractice lawsuits in the United States. According to a study at Johns Hopkins, misdiagnosis claims also account for the lion's share of malpractice settlements and court awards. The majority of medical malpractice lawsuits are filed over cases of misdiagnosis. Many of these claims involve the misdiagnosis of cancer.
At the root of every medical malpractice lawsuit is the concept of medical negligence. In their lawsuits, plaintiffs must argue that a healthcare professional deviated from the standard of care, the accepted method of providing medical care under the particular circumstances of their case. In principle, plaintiffs accuse a medical professional of making a choice that a reasonable, similarly-educated professional wouldn't have, and that choice led to someone else's suffering.
Standards Of Care Are Critical
Delayed or incorrect diagnoses can make the difference between hopeful and poor prognoses. That's not hyberole: survival rates are universally higher when tumors are diagnosed early and treated effectively. That means that oncologists, radiologists, pathologists and general practitioners - the very people we turn to for their knowledge, care and compassion - serve as our best line of defense against a late-stage disease and years of agonizing treatment. Early diagnosis matters.
Oncologists & Pathologists Have A Duty Of Care
Cancer is often hard to properly identify, but that doesn't mean we don't have effective methods for distinguishing between real tumors and other conditions. At the turn of the 20th century, surgical intervention was the only option that offered hope to cancer patients. The American College of Surgeons (ACS) took the lead, developing a set of standards for diagnosis and treatment. While our growing understanding of malignancy has led to the discovery of numerous non-surgical treatments, the ACS continues to update its standards, which serve as clear guidelines for diagnosing cancerous tumors in a timely manner.
Standards Of Care Can Change
Our increased knowledge also tells us that different cancers should be treated differently. The standard of care for breast cancer is different from that for lymphoma. Which type of cancer you were misdiagnosed with affects the particular standard of care that should have been used in your case. Even so, you always retain your fundamental rights as a patient.
It's a medical professional's highest obligation to understand these standards, even as they change, and put them into practice for the benefit of each patient. Doctors who deviate, or disregard, their field's current standard of care can be held liable for the suffering their negligence has caused. Deviations from the standard of care serve as the bedrock for every successful cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit.
Filing A Cancer Misdiagnosis Lawsuit
Not every incorrect diagnosis will lead to a viable medical negligence lawsuit, especially when a condition as complicated and difficult to treat as cancer is involved. In pursuing a cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit, every plaintiff will be required to prove two basic facts:
1. Your Doctor Violated The Standard Of Care
Like members of any profession, doctors, pathologists and diagnostic technicians are held to a professional standard. The biggest questions that have to be answered in any medical negligence claim are:
- What was the standard of care that your doctor should have followed?
- What actions did your doctor take or fail to take?
- Did those actions or inactions violate their standard of care?
To answer these questions, both Plaintiff and Defendant will rely on the testimony of experts. Most likely, other doctors and technicians will testify in court to clearly define what is reasonably expected of a medical professional under similar circumstances.
Again, standards of care change - from patient to patient, specialty to specialty and even based on geography. A patient's particular risk factors can make a huge difference in defining a standard of care. This is all meant to analyze your own misdiagnosis, describe the standard of care and ultimately tackle one big issue: what would a reasonable doctor have done under the same circumstances?
Cancer is complicated. It may be perfectly reasonable for a benign tumor to be mistaken for a malignancy, or vice versa. Some cancers present "nonspecific" symptoms at first, signs that can be confused with other conditions. That confusion may have been unavoidable. Or it may have been perfectly avoidable, and an instance of malpractice. Defining a standard of care allows us to separate the reasonable mistakes from the unreasonable.
2. Your Doctor's Violation Led To Avoidable Harm
The second essential consideration is whether or not a physician's negligence caused you actual harm that could have been avoided. Potential types of harm to consider include:
- a shortened life expectancy
- emotional trauma that results from living under the "threat" of a fatal disease
- exorbitant medical expenses for ineffective therapies
- the pain of undergoing inappropriate treatments, including surgeries
- being forced to undergo aggressive treatments for a late-stage disease that could have been caught earlier
- scarring and disfigurement as a result of unnecessary surgical procedures
Not that proving that these forms of damage were avoidable can be difficult in a cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit. Since many types of cancer have tragically low survival rates, the statistical likelihood of a patient dying without proper treatment is very similar to the risks given adequate treatment. That means "avoidable" becomes harder to prove, since in the vast majority of cases, real harm would have occurred regardless of what your doctor did.
How Common Is Cancer Misdiagnosis?
Very common, although determining exactly how common is difficult.
In 2014, a landmark study estimated that 12 million US patients are misdiagnosed annually. The media grabbed onto that number and started spreading it with few qualifications, suggesting that as many as 5% of patients will receive an inaccurate diagnosis during a given year. But there's a problem with that analysis. The study that CBS, Forbes and NBC had been circulating only looked into misdiagnoses that affected outpatients. People who were misdiagnosed during hospital stay weren't counted at all.
In short, we know that misdiagnosis is a huge problem, but getting an accurate read on how huge the problem actually is can be hard. Even so, we know that medical professionals make mistakes all the time. As many as 20% of all medical diagnoses are plain wrong, the New York Times reports. Even more troubling? The rate of serious misdiagnoses hasn't changed since the 1930s. In the realm of oncology, the most comprehensive study we have suggests that the rate of cancer misdiagnosis may be upwards of 28%, which is unacceptably high by any standard.
Misdiagnosis Ruins Lives
Diagnostic errors often have very real, very damaging effects. In 1991, researchers at Harvard found that 8% of all injuries suffered by patients in New York hospitals were due to a misdiagnosis. Even more startling, almost 77% of those incorrect diagnostic results were caused by medical negligence. The upshot? The majority of cancer misdiagnosis cases may be the result of avoidable diagnostic errors, and thus cases of medical malpractice.
Contact An Experienced Misdiagnosis Attorney Today
When medical professionals fail to honor their obligations, the experienced attorneys at Justice Guardians help patients pursue justice. Over decades of successful legal practice, our cancer misdiagnosis attorneys have amassed an impressive record of success. You can trust that we have the resources and experience necessary to get the job done for your family.
Were you or a loved one:
- diagnosed with a non-existent cancer?
- inaccurately diagnosed with a non-cancerous illness?
- diagnosed with the wrong type of cancer?
If so, you may be eligible to file a cancer misdiagnosis lawsuit.
Contact the Justice Guardians today for a free, confidential consultation. We'll review your case at no charge, discuss your legal options and let you know if we can help. Best of all, our services always come on a contingency-fee basis, so you pay nothing until we secure compensation in your case.