Can You Sue for a Delayed Diagnosis of Cancer?

Delayed diagnosis of cancer could be a sign of medical malpractice, in which cases victims may be able to sue negligent doctors for failure to diagnose cancer at a time when it’s detectable and more easily treatable.

If you believe a doctor has failed to diagnose your cancer on time, you may be able to build a medical malpractice case against him or her. It’s important to understand when it’s possible to do so and how to approach these types of lawsuits.

Why Is It Important to Diagnose Cancer Early?

Diagnosing cancer early on is crucial in helping treat it. If cancer patients receive a formal diagnosis early on, they’ll have a considerably higher survival rate and more easily treat the cancer before it has the chance to spread to other parts of the body. 

Conversely, if doctors detect and diagnose cancer too late, patients will have a much harder time treating the cancer and making a recovery. An early diagnosis is particularly vital for treating cancers that become exponentially more deadly as they progress, such as breast and colorectal cancer.

What Exactly Is a Delayed Diagnosis of Cancer?

Cancer patients may be victims of a delayed cancer diagnosis if they exhibit certain signs or symptoms, make certain complaints, or receive test results that indicate the presence of cancer, only for the doctor to overlook these signs and neglect to properly diagnose the patient’s condition, resulting in either a misdiagnosis or a delayed diagnosis.

Medical professionals must do what they can to identify potential signs of cancer and other conditions, assessing the patient’s condition and medical records to diagnose these conditions. Failure to do so could constitute medical malpractice due to the medical professional’s negligence.

To ensure that patients don’t have a condition, healthcare providers should conduct proper testing using tools such as X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams before making a diagnosis. Even if doctors are unable to make a diagnosis on their own, they should refer the patient to another specialist, who may be able to make the correct diagnosis on time. 

Ultimately, the failure to diagnose cancer and other serious conditions will enable the condition to worsen, causing more intense symptoms for the patient and potentially rendering future treatment less effective. Eventually, delayed diagnosis could also lead to medical malpractice deaths if patients succumb to cancer.

When Does a Missed Cancer Diagnosis Qualify as Medical Malpractice?

There are cases when a missed cancer diagnosis may qualify as medical malpractice, depending on the circumstances resulting in the missed diagnosis. The following are some instances when medical professionals may have practiced negligence when failing to properly diagnose cancer or other conditions:

Failure to Perform or Act on the Results of Screening Procedures

When first making a diagnosis, doctors will perform cancer screening procedures. Doctors must perform the correct procedure based on the symptoms and signs presented, and they must also properly examine, assess, and act on the test results.

However, many medical professionals will fail to make a proper diagnosis of cancer and other conditions when they:

  • Fail to perform the proper procedure
  • Make mistakes in the lab
  • Perform the wrong procedure
  • Fail to act on test results
  • Misinterpret test results
  • Fail to report test results

Any of these instances of negligence could result in a delay in treatment lawsuit if they fail to detect cancer when it’s present.

If the results of an examination and screening procedure indicate the presence of cancer, but the doctor is unable to make a formal diagnosis based on his or her limited expertise, the doctor should refer the patient to a specialist whose results might be more conclusive.

Ignoring Patient Complaints

Sometimes patients may complain of symptoms that could be indicative of a serious underlying condition. When you visit your doctor, you might present with anything from a persistent cough to chronic pain in a specific area of the body. In these cases, doctors should perform a proper exam and determine if there is any cause for concern, which could lead to more formal cancer screening. 

Despite the potential seriousness of a patient’s condition even with mild symptoms, some doctors may choose to ignore patients’ complaints. Some may also fail to schedule appointments in a timely fashion or stay in touch with patients. If these behaviors lead to a delayed cancer diagnosis or a misdiagnosis when cancer is present, this could be a form of medical negligence.

What Do You Need to Prove Negligence in a Delayed Cancer Diagnosis Case?

If you want to build a successful medical malpractice case due to a delayed cancer diagnosis or misdiagnosis, you must prove several elements using sufficient evidence. Specifically, you must prove that:

  • The medical professional owed a duty of care to you, often through proving a doctor-patient relationship
  • The medical professional breached the duty of care by failing to provide the same level of care that another professional in the same position would have provided under similar circumstances
  • That the breach of duty of care resulted in the delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis
  • That the delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis caused specific damages to you, including harm due to spreading cancer and subsequent damages

Through an experienced medical malpractice lawyer, you may be able to prove each of these items with a complete medical malpractice case. He or she would be able to determine if malpractice caused harm and damages, and collect evidence to help prove your case.

Recoverable Damages in Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

If you suffer from the delayed diagnosis of cancer and want to file a lawsuit against negligent medical professionals, you may be able to seek compensation for multiple types of damages. 

Like other negligence cases, medical malpractice cases often involve a combination of economic and non-economic damages. Additionally, depending on the nature of the case, punitive and wrongful death damages may be involved.

Economic or Special Damages

The first type of damage to consider is economic. These damages refer to the financial losses that victims sustain because of their delayed cancer diagnosis or misdiagnosis. 

Examples of economic damages in these types of cases may include medical expenses, the future costs of treatment, lost income resulting from time taken out of work for treatment and recovery, and lost earning capacity that might result in the future because of a delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis.

To help prove ongoing and future medical costs that patients may pay, expert witnesses might be able to provide evidence for what patients can expect based on previous cases involving similar situations.

Non-Economic or General Damages

In addition to economic damages, cancer patients may recover non-economic damages that relate to the personal experience they have because of the delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis. 

Examples of these types of damages could include the physical pain and psychological distress that patients experience, along with the loss of enjoyment of life, effects of long-term disability, and loss of companionship or consortium. 

Victims can help prove non-economic damages by maintaining “pain journals” that detail their experiences. They can reveal the symptoms and struggles that patients suffer on a daily basis, helping show how medical malpractice negatively impacted their lives.

Wrongful Death Damages

If a patient dies from cancer as a result of a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, the patient’s loved ones may be able to recover wrongful death damages. These damages include the above damages, including medical bills for treatment and the patient’s pain and suffering, along with other costs pertaining to the victim’s death, including burial and funeral expenses.

Wrongful death damages can also account for the pain and suffering the family experiences because of the patient’s death, as well as financial losses such as the loss of certain services.

Punitive Damages

While these damages aren’t often involved in lawsuits, they could come into play if a defendant acted with egregious negligence or malice. If the court finds that a medical professional engaged in gross negligence to cause a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, a judge or jury might decide to award punitive damages.

While economic and non-economic damages are compensatory and aim to help victims recover from the harm they endured, punitive damages have the goal of punishing defendants for their behavior. As a result, the courts hope to prevent similar behavior from occurring in the future through these damages.

Evidence Needed in a Delayed Diagnosis or Misdiagnosed Cancer Lawsuit

To help prove that medical malpractice occurred, there are multiple potential pieces of evidence you may use in these cases. 

The following are some of the many types of evidence you may use in a medical malpractice case:

  • Medical records and bills
  • Screening procedure test results
  • Video evidence
  • Copies of incorrect prescriptions
  • Healthcare regulations and policies
  • The patient’s testimony

If you need help collecting any of this evidence, you may be able to consult the services of a medical malpractice attorney.

Steps for Building a Delay in Treatment Lawsuit

If you want to build a case against negligent medical professionals for a delayed cancer diagnosis or a misdiagnosis, there are some key steps to take, including:

Contact the Medical Professional

If you believe that a particular medical professional or team of professionals is at fault, reach out to these individuals. They may be willing to provide you with the care you need and correct the problem early on, or provide another solution. If they are unable or unwilling to provide proper treatment, seek the help of a different medical provider.

Get in Touch With a Medical Licensing Board

After contacting the liable medical professionals, you may find that they’re unresponsive or otherwise unhelpful. At this point, you may then contact the medical licensing board responsible for licensing these medical professionals. These licensing boards have the power to warn the medical professionals and may help prevent future negligence from taking place. Additionally, your state’s licensing board may guide you in the right direction when building a malpractice case.

Avoid Filing Your Lawsuit Too Late

When building a case against liable medical practitioners, you only have a limited amount of time to recover compensation. This time limit is the statute of limitations, and it varies depending on the state where the case occurs. 

If you fail to file your lawsuit on time, you may be unable to recover the compensation you deserve because of medical malpractice or other forms of negligence. Typically, the statute of limitations begins from the time of the discovery of injuries and wrongdoing, but some exceptions may apply, depending on the circumstances of the case.

Seek a Medical Assessment

Some states may require victims of medical malpractice to get “certificates of merit” that help prove that medical malpractice took place. To obtain this certificate, you must contact a relevant medical professional or another expert in the field to perform a complete evaluation of your medical records. This professional can help determine if your doctor engaged in malpractice in the form of a delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis. He or she may then issue a certificate of merit that allows you to proceed with your delay in treatment lawsuit. 

Though this is not required in Illinois, seeking the testimony of another medical professional can strengthen your case.

Speak With an Attorney

If you need assistance with your case, reach out to an experienced medical malpractice attorney. An attorney can review the facts of your case and determine if you have a valid lawsuit. He or she may then represent you throughout the case to recover full compensation from negligent cancer doctors or other medical personnel responsible for a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of cancer. 

Build a Case Against Liable Medical Professionals for the Delayed Diagnosis of Cancer

In the event of a misdiagnosis or the delayed diagnosis of cancer that resulted in harm to you or a loved one, you may be able to sue liable doctors for medical malpractice. Doing so could help facilitate recovery while ensuring that negligent professionals don’t evade repercussions for their behavior and the harm they cause.

Chicago personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney Howard Ankin has a passion for justice and a relentless commitment to defending injured victims throughout the Chicagoland area. With decades of experience achieving justice on behalf of the people of Chicago, Howard has earned a reputation as a proven leader in and out of the courtroom. Respected by peers and clients alike, Howard’s multifaceted approach to the law and empathetic nature have secured him a spot as an influential figure in the Illinois legal system.

Years of Experience: More than 30 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, U.S. District Court, Central District of Illinois
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