What qualifies as a misdiagnosis?

Last updated on: August 15, 2021

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Life-threatening health conditions, such as cancer and heart failure, are traumatic for both the diagnosed patient and their loved ones. We trust in the training of medical providers for diagnosis and treatment. Ultimately, however, not all medical providers provide the same quality of service, and even the most well-trained doctor makes mistakes. That’s why it’s important to call misdiagnosis malpractice lawyers you can trust.

Misdiagnosis comes with serious risk of its own and may rise to the level of medical malpractice. Though securing satisfactory compensation for misdiagnosis medical malpractice is often quite difficult, it is not impossible.

Our nationwide medical malpractice lawyers are here to help. We can evaluate your case, navigate this difficult area of law, and help you strategize a path toward maximum compensation. If you or a loved one has been injured due to a doctor’s misdiagnosis, call Zinda Law Group at (800) 863-5312 for a 100% free consultation with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer.

How often do medical misdiagnoses occur?

Medical misdiagnosis is surprisingly common; according to BJM Journals, approximately 12 million people in the United States are affected by outpatient misdiagnoses each year, and according to the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, an estimated 40,000 to 80,000 people die in the United States every year from diagnostic error—in hospitals alone. The same study reports that “the total across all clinical settings is likely much higher.” According to an extensive report by CRICO Strategies, the risk management arm of the Harvard Medical Institutions and a national research leader in medical professional liability, 21% of the malpractice cases analyzed were characterized by diagnostic error.

The study covered the 10-year period from 2007–2016 and analyzed 124,000 malpractice cases. Of the diagnostic-error cases:

  • 7% involved the nervous system,
  • 7%, the digestive system,
  • 17%, complications of care, and
  • 18%, cardiac arrest and strokes.

However, out of a wide range of missed or delayed diagnoses covered by the study, cancers were consistently the most frequently misdiagnosed—they were involved in 30% of the diagnostic error cases. With statistics like these, it is important to stay vigilant when seeking medical diagnosis and treatment.

Read more: CRICO Strategies, Medical Malpractice in America, a 10-Year Assessment with Insights

Misdiagnosis FAQs

Patients turn to doctors and other medical practitioners for their expertise in specialized areas precisely because they do not have that expertise themselves. Therefore, victims of medical malpractice are often left scratching their heads when the experts make a mistake. Some common questions include:

What Is a Misdiagnosis?

Misdiagnosis is, on the surface, a simple concept. We all know colloquially that it simply means that the medical provider “got it wrong.” However, this commonsensical notion may mischaracterize the complexity of the diagnostic process.

Considerable ink has been spilled in defining the meaning of the phrase “diagnostic error.” However, though misdiagnosis may arise in many potentially overlapping forms, some of the most common include:

  • False positives
  • False negatives
  • Misinterpretation of lab/test results
  • Delayed diagnosis
  • Failure to diagnose a root cause
  • Failure to diagnose a related cause or illness
  • Failure to diagnose an unrelated disease
  • Failure to recognize complications

How Do I Know I’ve Been Misdiagnosed?

Again, medical practice is a highly complex and specialized field with many sub-specialties; this complexity is reflected in the diagnostic process. As succinctly reported, again, by the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, the complexity is also reflected in the fact that there are over 10,000 known diseases, over 3,500 kinds of laboratory tests, and hundreds of overlapping methods to establish an accurate (or inaccurate) diagnosis. Yet, there are comparatively very few symptoms and, often, hundreds of possible explanations.

For nonexperts, it is typically impossible to know with technical certainty whether they have been misdiagnosed; however, no one knows your body as well as you do. Therefore, trust your instinct; if a prescribed medication does not seem to be working as described by your doctor, this could be a sign of a misdiagnosis. If symptoms become unexpectedly worse, this too could be a sign.

Candor and clarity with healthcare professionals is a very important part of the diagnostic process; therefore, you should fill out your intake form thoroughly. Reveal the entirety of your symptoms thoroughly and reveal your full family history, any prescribed medications, and your full procedural/surgical history. If you have doubts, express them to your doctor.

Again, diagnostics is not a perfect science and opinions may differ. Even the best trained doctor can make mistakes that a second opinion might catch. It is your right and in your interest that you feel confident in your healthcare. Therefore, do not be afraid to seek a second opinion.

What Happens After a Misdiagnosis?

Needless to say, the consequences of a misdiagnosis can range from an inconsequential delay in treatment to a life-threatening catastrophe; for example, a false-positive diagnosis of cancer may lead a doctor to prescribe extreme and unnecessary treatment that takes a dramatic toll on your health or exacerbates the actual cause of your symptoms. Alternatively, a misplaced diagnosis of cancer may lead a doctor to apply treatment in the wrong part of your body and meanwhile leave the actual cancer untreated. Similarly, a failure to identify the cancer altogether will similarly leave the cancer to free grow and spread, untreated and perhaps fatally.

Cancer is a commonly misdiagnosed illness. But, of course, it is only one of many possible scenarios. Again, if you have serious doubts about your diagnosis (or lack thereof) for a potentially serious ailment, do not be afraid to seek a second opinion.

Legal Route to compensation

Ultimately, if you believe you have been the victim of medical misdiagnosis, you may have a strong medical malpractice claim. This area of law is commonly very difficult to navigate for plaintiffs. Firstly, the factual complexity of diagnostics makes the area difficult to evaluate and argue; secondly, there are a number of legal barriers designed to protect the medical industry against meritless lawsuits.

That said, the medical malpractice attorneys at Zinda Law Group are well-equipped to evaluate your case, inform you of your rights and options, and help you seek maximum compensation. They know the finer points of the law that will affect your case. Some high points in the law that victims of medical malpractice should be aware of include the concept of medical negligence, the kinds of damages available, limits on damages, and statutes of limitations.

Medical Negligence

Firstly, medical negligence is the most common cause of action brought in medical malpractice cases. It requires proving four elements, which are as follows:

1. The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff.

2. The defendant breached that duty of care.

3. The plaintiff sustained injuries.

4. The defendant’s breach was the cause of the injury.

These elements must be proved in all negligence claims, whether they are medical in nature or not. However, it is the first element that distinguishes medical malpractice claims; this is so because the “duty of care” for medical practitioners is based on the “standard of care” in the practitioner’s area of specialty, and because medical practice is diverse, complex, and highly specialized, defining the standard of care is often very difficult. This may be particularly true when dealing with diagnostics because, as has been explained, there is much room for error.

The process of litigating what the standard of care was often requires hiring medical experts; this alone can raise the cost of litigation significantly. Ultimately, when defining the standard of care, a jury will consider what a reasonable medical practitioner of reasonable competence should have done in the situation leading to the misdiagnosis and its consequences. However, like most people, members of a jury are not medical experts; adequately informing the jury so that they can deliver a just and favorable decision requires an experienced attorney.


Secondly, it is important to understand the limits on recovery. There are three kinds of damages typically recoverable in personal injury cases:

  • Economic damages
  • Non-economic damages
  • Punitive damages

Economic damages are meant to compensate the victim for their losses that are reducible to a monetary amount (for example, the cost of treating your injury). Non-economic damages are meant to compensate for losses that are not reducible in this way (for example, your pain and suffering). Finally, punitive damages, though not commonly awarded, are designed not to compensate the victim but to punish the defendant.

In order to prevent juries from awarding excessive and “unfair” amounts to plaintiffs, many states have imposed limits on recovery. Each state has its own set of rules. There frequently are also specific rules governing each kind of damages.

Statute of Limitations

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is imperative that victims understand the statute of limitations governing their case; statutes of limitations set a deadline after which you can no longer bring a case. Each state sets its own statute of limitations; however, the deadline is typically set within 2-3 years after the negligence occurred. Some states have special statutes of limitations specifically governing medical negligence cases.

The important thing to remember is that, in most cases, statutes of limitations act as a virtually absolute bar against your case once their time limit elapses. Therefore, do not hesitate to bring your case to a misdiagnosis injury lawyer as soon as possible. Time is of the essence.

Read more: Medical Malpractice Center, Medical Malpractice Laws by State

OUR medical malpractice lawyers CAN HELP

We rely on healthcare providers in our hours of greatest need. However, given the complicated nature of medical practice, the rate and risk of misdiagnosis should not be underestimated. Misdiagnosis can lead to serious and life threatening complications. Many times, these are entirely preventable, and the lapse in judgment leading to these complications is inexcusable.

Securing adequate compensation for diagnostic errors and their consequences is often a daunting task. The nationwide medical malpractice attorneys at Zinda Law Group are committed to helping victims of medical malpractice confront that task.

Call Zinda Law Group at (800) 863-5312 for a 100% free case evaluation with our medical malpractice lawyers. Tell us about your case, and we will tell you how we can help. You pay nothing unless we win your case; that is our No Win, No Fee Guarantee.

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