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Misdiagnosis and Medical Malpractice

StethoscopeBoth doctors and patients live in fear of misdiagnosis. For a doctor it can mean a hit to one’s professional reputation and potential punitive consequences, while for a patient it can mean one’s life being completely upended. A significant proportion of medical malpractice cases stem from a doctor’s failure to diagnose or incorrect diagnosis. While a mere mistake in diagnosis is not enough to sustain a malpractice suit, it can lead to harm to the patient, which assuredly is enough.

Differential Diagnosis and Competence

In order to succeed in bringing a malpractice suit against a doctor, you must be able to prove a causal link exists between the doctor’s conduct in treating you and your injuries. A doctor may have been negligent, but if their negligence did not cause you harm, you have no cause of action. It is usually necessary to examine the doctor’s method of diagnosis before reaching an opinion on liability.

Doctors use a method referred to as differential diagnosis in order to narrow down the possibilities for what a specific patient might be dealing with. There are a host of factors that can cause a differential diagnosis to be rushed or bungled - for example, a staff shortage leading to a heavy caseload, or an incorrect reading of test results. Only some of these factors are grounds to allege negligence.

The key is to look at what a doctor of similar age, experience and ability would do in the same situation. Is there reasonable evidence that most doctors would have been able to diagnose the issue? If so, you may have a case, because situations like this are referred to as breaching the standard of care, which is a major part of negligence law. Malpractice is a specialized form of negligence.

The Concept of Harm

In order to establish that a medical professional has committed malpractice by failing to diagnose your condition, you must prove that they acted in a manner that is not in keeping with the prevailing standard of care, and you must prove that conduct to be the actual cause of your injuries. However, you must also be able to show that the misdiagnosis caused you real, tangible harm.

The most common example of a misdiagnosis causing real harm to a patient is when a doctor fails to spot something terminal, such as cancer or heart disease. Especially with some varieties of cancer, any delay in treatment can be critical. It is also not uncommon that if a doctor misdiagnoses a patient with a condition they do not have, the patient may bring suit for emotional distress and mental trauma, given that ‘actual harm’ does not have to be physical harm. Unlike many other states, however, California does place caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. In other words, the amount you may receive from causes of action like pain and suffering, as opposed to more tangible allegations like lost wages, is limited.

Get a Professional on Your Side

While medical professionals are human, and do err, sometimes a mistake is too much to let go. If you have been through a misdiagnosis, and believe you have a case, the San Jose medical malpractice attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. may be able to assist. Malpractice and misdiagnosis are a cornerstone of our practice, and we are invested in giving you every possible option to help set things right for you and your family. Contact us today via telephone for a free consultation; we serve San Jose, the Bay Area, and the counties of Santa Clara, San Mateo, Monterey, Alameda and San Benito.

Client Reviews
My experience with Attorney Brad Corsiglia during my recent medical malpractice case was nothing short of amazing given the very stressful circumstances. I was fortunate to find Brad highly recommended from a mutual contact and from the very beginning of the process, Brad was truly engaged and knowledgeable in understanding my case and providing input on what avenues were available to me. Michelle M.