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When Is Misdiagnosis Considered Medical Malpractice?

March 11, 2024Articles

When we have a medical condition, disease, or injury, we can only receive the proper treatment when the doctor correctly diagnoses the condition. Fortunately, doctors routinely perform evaluations, order the correct tests, and properly interpret them, resulting in curative medical treatment for an illness or disease. But what happens when a doctor makes a misdiagnosis due to an error such as failing to properly assess the patient or failing to order the proper diagnostic tests? Is it always medical malpractice when a doctor incorrectly diagnoses a patient?

Understanding Liability in Medical Malpractice Cases

Even if a doctor or other medical provider makes a mistake, the patient doesn’t necessarily have a medical malpractice case unless they suffered consequences from the mistake such as a worsened medical condition, further necessary treatment, additional expenses, or shortened life expectancy. These consequences are known as the victim’s “damages” in a medical malpractice claim. If the victim of a misdiagnosis doesn’t suffer damages, they cannot recover compensation for the mistake. To prove a medical malpractice claim of misdiagnosis and recover compensation, the injury victim must provide evidence of the following legal points of liability for medical malpractice:


  • A doctor/patient relationship was in place at the time of the misdiagnosis (if your neighbor is a doctor and recommends over the backyard fence that calamine lotion will help a rash that’s later diagnosed as shingles, they are not liable because no professional doctor/patient relationship was in place at the time)
  • The medical provider owed a duty of care to treat the patient at the standard of care accepted by the medical community
  • They breached this duty by acting negligently
  • Their negligent breach of duty directly caused the patient’s injury
  • The patient suffered damages from the injury

When medical malpractice cases for misdiagnosis come to trial, the judge often tasks the jury with deciding the case based on the question: “Would another, reasonable doctor have made the same diagnosis under the same circumstances?” If the answer is “no,” then medical malpractice occurred and the provider is liable for the victim’s damages including medical expenses, lost wages, and compensation for pain and suffering. This compensation typically comes from the doctor’s medical malpractice insurance.

When Does a Misdiagnosis Become Medical Malpractice?

If a patient tells their dermatologist that they have an unusual mole and the doctor removes it but doesn’t order pathology tests because the mole was symmetrical, it’s a misdiagnosis if the patient later presents with melanoma that’s spread to the lungs, liver, or brain. If the doctor had ordered the proper tests, they could have removed a greater amount of tissue and the impacted lymph nodes to stop the spread of the cancer.

Not every misdiagnosis is medical malpractice. For instance, if in the above scenario, the doctor misdiagnosed the spot as a carcinoma and pathology testing revealed a melanoma, resulting in prompt, life-saving treatment, the misdiagnosis isn’t medical malpractice because the patient suffered no consequences for the misdiagnosed disease.

Is My Case Medical Malpractice?

If your doctor misdiagnosed an illness or injury and you experienced economic and non-economic damages due to the misdiagnosis, you deserve compensation for your losses. If a close family member died due to a doctor’s misdiagnosis, a wrongful death claim can recover compensation for funeral expenses, loss of a provider’s income, and compensation for grief and anguish. In cases of egregious actions from a provider resulting in a misdiagnosis, punitive damages may also be available in a New Haven medical malpractice case.