Can You Sue for a Misdiagnosis? | TorHoerman Law

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Can You Sue a Doctor for Misdiagnosis? What You Need To Know About Misdiagnosis Lawsuits

Though we often need to trust medical professionals with our health, the reality is that human error and negligence can lead to a potentially harmful misdiagnosis — something that occurs all too often.

One 2022 study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that 6% of patients in emergency rooms were misdiagnosed. From this same study, researchers found that 2% of these misdiagnoses resulted in an adverse event. Although this study primarily examined emergency room visits, the researchers also noted that primary care providers can be equally as culpable of misdiagnosis.

Although seemingly small at first, a medical misdiagnosis can result in many undesired outcomes. Delayed care, incorrect treatments, and future medical issues are all potential results of medical misdiagnosis. Due to these detrimental effects, a misdiagnosis is considered medical malpractice, and therefore, a legal liability for doctors and other healthcare providers.

What Is Considered a Misdiagnosis?

A medical misdiagnosis is when a healthcare professional incorrectly identifies a patient’s condition. A misdiagnosis can take several forms:

  • Wrong diagnosis: When a disease or condition is identified as a different disease or condition.
  • Missed diagnosis: When symptoms that indicate a condition are ignored or dismissed, this leads to a missed diagnosis.
  • Delayed diagnosis: A delayed diagnosis is when ignored symptoms and signs of an illness are eventually diagnosed, causing the patient to live some time without the issues being addressed.

While the details of a medical misdiagnosis can vary, each represents a potential breach of a medical professional’s responsibility to provide the best care they can.

The Impacts of Receiving a Misdiagnosis

The wrong diagnosis can have a detrimental impact on a patient’s well-being — whether it be physical, mental, or emotional. Diagnostic errors pose an important threat to healthcare quality and safety in outpatient settings.

Physical Injury

Even at its best, a medical misdiagnosis can cause a delay in effective treatment. At first, they’ll be given treatment for the wrong illness. This means the actual condition is not appropriately taken care of, causing the undiagnosed condition to progress and further threaten the patient’s health. At its worst, incorrect treatment could complicate the malady or lead to further issues.

In 2014, the Joint Commission’s Office of Quality and Safety analyzed 73 events that were the result of delays in treatment; 48 of these events resulted in the death of the patient. From 2010 to 2014, the Joint Commission observed 522 sentinel events that were a result of delays in treatment. Of these occasions, 415 resulted in patient death, 77 resulted in permanent loss of function, and 24 resulted in unexpected additional care or extended stay.

In a separate study that evaluated 583 diagnostic mistakes, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) found that 28 percent were major, resulting in life-threatening circumstances or permanent disability. If the misdiagnosed disease results in the death of the patient, the medical professional may be liable for the patient’s wrongful death.

Emotional Distress From Misdiagnoses

A medical misdiagnosis can also give patients the false belief that their condition is worse than it is. For these cases, among others, patients can sue the hospital for emotional distress.

While emotional distress may not be as visible as physical injuries, it has a significant effect on a person’s mental health. Patients suing a doctor for a wrong diagnosis can demand compensation for emotional distress damages.

Common Types of Misdiagnoses

Although the consequences of misdiagnosis are myriad, it’s unfortunately all too easy to commit as many diseases present themselves in similar ways. One Johns Hopkins research team found that 85% of misdiagnosed cases were a result of errors in clinical judgment. Due to this common misjudgment, doctors and patients alike must familiarize themselves with the following conditions and why they’re commonly misdiagnosed:

  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus vs Rheumatoid Arthritis: Both of these conditions are autoimmune diseases that share several symptoms. Joint pain usually is the most apparent. If misdiagnosed, these illnesses can have severe long-term effects such as anemia, joint deformity, and lung damage.
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome vs. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: The former condition causes numbness or tingling sensations in the hand, which can be similar to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Treatment delay can cause permanent neurological damage, so it is important to have your symptoms evaluated and treated early.

If a medical misdiagnosis is due to a healthcare professional’s negligence, there could be legal repercussions.

Preventing Misdiagnosis

In some cases, misdiagnosis can be prevented. Providing a complete medical history and a detailed list of symptoms can offer additional context that helps to diagnose the illness. Patients or their caretakers should also pay attention during interactions with doctors. If they seem busy, distracted, or inattentive, it could be a good idea to speak up.

If you have concerns that your doctor’s diagnosis may not be accurate, or even if you just want another doctor’s examination, tell your doctor you want a second opinion. They can help explain why they came to the conclusion they did. This can be useful context for a second examining doctor, who may be able to recognize an error in judgment.

How To Respond to a Misdiagnosis and Bring a Lawsuit

If you believe you may have received a misdiagnosis, your doctor may be legally liable, particularly if you’ve suffered mentally or physically. Before this happens, however, you must prove you were misdiagnosed.

Make sure to collect medical records from the hospital where you received the wrong diagnosis. If you pursue legal action, this information will be necessary.

Find a Misdiagnosis Lawyer

If the negligent actions of a healthcare professional, result in a patient’s misdiagnosis, wrong diagnosis, or delayed diagnosis, they can be considered a form of medical malpractice — which is a serious crime.

Should you decide to sue, be prepared to consult and retain an injury lawyer with any other evidence of tangible damages that you may have suffered as a result. An experienced medical malpractice or misdiagnosis attorney will be able to guide your road to recovery and aid the healing process with financial compensation.

Getting a Second Opinion

If you haven’t already, seek out a second opinion if you’re uncertain about your misdiagnosis. A second opinion from a different doctor can either confirm a misdiagnosis or reaffirm the initial belief. Either way, a second opinion can offer comfort to those questioning their medical status. If the second opinion confirms an incorrect diagnosis, then you should feel certain that you can sue a doctor for a wrong diagnosis.

Take these actions as soon as possible, as many states have a statute of limitations, dictating how long you have to sue. Contact legal counsel as soon as possible to discover your options.

Proving Harm to the Patient

Another important aspect of a successful wrongful diagnosis case is proving that harm was done to the patient. For physical injuries, this can be done through medical records or the expert testimony of another medical professional. For financial harm, medical bills can help to show the cost of unnecessary treatments or procedures.

In the event of emotional distress, this can be proven in several ways. Testimony from mental health professionals or social workers can link a negative mental state to a misdiagnosis. In some cases, physical symptoms like significant weight loss, ulcers, or other stress-related changes in behavior can be indicators of emotional damage.

Seeking Compensation

Those who have been misdiagnosed deserve financial compensation for their completely avoidable situation. Health complications and even emotional distress may qualify you for a lawsuit. An injury lawyer can help you seek compensation for your mental or physical damages — which can come in the form of money to pay for the aforementioned compensatory and punitive damages.

Balogh, E. (2015, December 29). Overview of Diagnostic Error in Health Care. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from

Bocco, D. (2018, November 13). What’s the Difference Between Lupus and RA? Retrieved September 17, 2020, from

E (2000, May 15). How to Ask for a Second Opinion. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from

Heidi Moawad, M. (2019, August 06). How to Tell If It’s a Stroke or a Migraine Headache. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from

Holland, K. (2019, February 04). How Do Tell Multiple Sclerosis from Fibromyalgia? Retrieved September 17, 2020, from

How Can I Tell the Difference Between Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Colorectal Cancer?: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. (2019, November 14). Retrieved September 17, 2020, from

Lyme Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis: Similarities, Differences and Why a Misdiagnosis Can be Deadly. (2020, April 15). Retrieved September 17, 2020, from

Singh, H., Meyer, A., & Thomas, E. (2014, September 01). The frequency of diagnostic errors in outpatient care: Estimations from three large observational studies involving US adult populations. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from



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