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Failure to Properly Diagnose Patient Results in Substantial Award of Damages

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Missed diagnosis is a serious and widespread form of medical malpractice.  Studies on the rate of misdiagnoses and the effects on patients show that misdiagnosis is more likely to negatively affect patients than some serious illnesses.  One study found that missed, late, or incorrect diagnoses occur in 10-20% of all cases.  Another report found that, of the 583 cases where diagnostic errors were anonymously reported to have occurred, 28% of those errors resulted in the patient experiencing permanent disability or death. In fact, one study found that fatal errors in diagnosis among physicians in intensive care units caused the same number of deaths – 40,500 – as were caused by breast cancer each year.  By and large, researchers find that these errors stem from a diagnosing doctor’s flawed thinking and negligence, rather than failure to identify an uncommon condition.

Proper diagnosis of an illness is critical.  Without the correct diagnosis, it may be impossible for patients to receive the care they need to recover.  Missed diagnoses can not only cost a patient years of discomfort, but could result in the wrongful death of a patient whose illness would have been treatable if detected earlier.  When patients fail to receive a correct diagnosis due to doctor error, such as failing to order all indicated tests or conduct a thorough exam, and a patient suffers a worse outcome as a result, affected patients may have a claim for money damages to compensate them or their families for the injuries or loss of health they suffered unnecessarily.    A recent case highlights the serious possible consequences of a missed diagnosis.

A jury in Baltimore County, Maryland recently heard claims made on behalf of a patient who had been the victim of a missed diagnosis.  The claims were made on behalf of a 28-year-old father who had visited a cardiologist in March of 2012 after suffering months of serious chest pain.  After failing to conduct any tests that would allow more insight into the man’s condition, the cardiologist diagnosed the man with “atypical chest pain.”  Based on good medical practice, such a diagnosis should have been followed up with a stress test to determine if the man had cardiovascular disease, but no such test occurred.  Unfortunately, the man suffered a fatal heart attack several months later, which doctors concluded had resulted from untreated cardiovascular disease.  Claims brought by the man’s family for his wrongful death and ensuing emotional distress resulted in a $4 million jury verdict in favor of the family.  The $3.75 million non-economic portion of the jury award, which was intended to compensate the family’s mental anguish and emotional distress as well as the man’s pain and suffering, will be reduced to $887,500, pursuant to the cap on non-economic damages under Maryland law.

For assistance with claims based on a missed, late, or incorrect diagnosis in Maryland, seek experienced and knowledgeable legal help by contacting the Rockville medical malpractice attorneys at Brault Graham, LLC, for a consultation at 301-424-1060.

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