A cancer diagnosis is never welcomed news, but diagnoses that arrive too late, or after misdiagnoses have already comprised available options or a patient’s health, can make for truly devastating experiences. If there is any silver lining to medical errors like these, it is that victims and their families may have the right to seek justice, and hold negligent medical professionals accountable for their failures to meet their duty of care.
Understanding Medical Malpractice
Medical professionals have challenging jobs, but by taking their figurative “oath of office,” they agree to provide care that meets the accepted standards of their profession. Failing to do so, whether as a result of negligence or any type of inexcusable error, is a breach of this duty which can open the door to liability when patients suffer harms and losses that could and should have been prevented.
When patients do suffer preventable harm, medical malpractice lawsuits become the avenue through which they can pursue justice and financial compensation. However, medical malpractice cases are notorious for being highly difficult claims that entail complex medical concepts, and for being high stakes matters where medical providers and insurers are keen to avoid paying victims. For these reasons it becomes crucial that patients work with personal injury attorneys who have proven experience in cases involving medical negligence, as well as the resources and professional connections with relevant medical experts that successful claims require.
Proving Medical Negligence
Determining whether you have a potential claim for a delayed diagnosis, as with any medical malpractice claim, depends on the unique facts and circumstances of your case. In the most general terms, there are a few essential legal elements that must be present and proven by victims:
- A Doctor-Patient Relationship – There must be a doctor-patient relationship between the defendant (i.e. a treating physician) and a victim (the patient). That’s because this relationship creates the “duty of care” by which medical professionals must treat patients, and because doctors can’t be held accountable for injuries caused by victims who may have followed instructions or recommendations not intended for them (such as when a patient overhears a doctor speaking with another patient and follows their advice).
- Breach of Duty – A medical professional breaches their legal duty when they provide substandard care. This essentially means they failed to act as a reasonably skillful medical provider would act under the same or similar circumstances, and usually arises from negligence. If a doctor exercising reasonable care and skill would have been able to diagnose a patient’s cancer in a timely fashion, for example, victims may have grounds to claim their doctor breached their duty of care when they failed to do the same.
- Causation & Damages– It is not enough to simply prove a doctor provided substandard care. There needs to be evidence that substandard care more likely than not (the burden of proof in civil injury cases) caused damages for which the negligent medical professional (or negligent parties) should be held liable. These damages can include a patient’s pain and suffering, medical expenses, and lost income caused by a delayed diagnosis, among other damages. It may also include the profound emotional and economic losses incurred by families who lose loved ones.
Delayed Diagnoses: How Negligence Plays a Role
Delayed diagnoses, as well as misdiagnoses, are so concerning because they ultimately delay the start of what may have been effective treatment. As noted by the American Cancer Society, early detection is critical to improving prognoses and allowing cancer patients to benefit from less invasive and more effective treatment options. When medical errors prevent such early detection, patients can incur costly medical bills for less effective, more painful, and / or unnecessary treatment that can cause undue injuries and suffering. In the most tragic of cases, it can mean the difference between life / remission and death.
Delayed cancer diagnoses are unfortunately not that uncommon. They may also have various causes or contributing factors, some of which include substandard care or negligence involving:
- Failures to properly evaluate a patient’s medical history, risks, test results, and other important information to arrive at an accurate and timely diagnosis.
- Administrative errors, including lost or inaccurate documents, patient mix-ups, and other similar mistakes.
- Communication errors between medical professionals involved in the assessment and care of a patient.
- Performing the wrong types of exams or tests, performing tests improperly, misinterpreting test results, and miscommunication of or failures to report findings.
Depending on the type of cancer and other unique factors in an individual case, cancer can be a difficult and elusive disease to accurately diagnose and treat. However, it is not a medical professional’s duty to always determine what’s wrong with a patient or to always ensure treatment will succeed in curing them. That’s not the standard to which doctors are held. They are held, though, to a standard which requires them to uphold accepted practices and treat patients with the competency and skill expected of a reasonably skillful medical professional. This is the core issue to focus on in medical malpractice cases involving cancer and diagnostic errors.
Discuss Your Case with an Orlando Medical Malpractice Lawyer
Delayed and missed diagnoses may not always be a significant issue that causes a patient’s undue harm, but with progressive and potentially highly aggressive diseases like cancer, it can have dire consequences. By stepping forward to pursue medical malpractice lawsuits, victims and families play an important role in upholding the standards by which medical professionals must treat patients – meaning they can help ensure negligent providers are held accountable, encourage needed changes in a medical group, and potentially ensure others do not suffer similar fates for similar and avoidable reasons.
Medical malpractice lawsuits are also essential to providing victims and families with the sense of justice they deserve, as well as the opportunity to recover financial compensation for their damages, including past and future damages. At Todd Miner Law, our legal team is passionate about helping clients make the most of these opportunities, and to fighting for the maximum financial recoveries possible.
If you wish to discuss a potential case with a member of our team, contact us for a free and confidential consultation.